What that “Texas Miracle” Looks Like from the Classroom

By Dr. Jerry Burkett
September 3, 2013

In May the United States Census Bureau issued Public Education Finance: 2011 Governments Division Reports. The report details the “financial activity for the operation and support of public school systems providing elementary and/or secondary programs. These activities include the instruction of prekindergarten through twelfth-grade children, as well as support activities, such as guidance counseling, administration, transportation, plant operation and maintenance, and food services.” The report outlines the fiscal activity for school systems from September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2011.

It is important to note that the report purposefully left charter school funding out of its data set, stating that a few “public charter schools” are run by public universities and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofit organizations and are therefore classified as private.”

The comprehensive report reveals a lot about how states fund their public schools. The data for Texas paints a distinctly different picture of the “Texas Miracle” than the one politicians like to brag about. Here’s what can be gleaned about school funding in Texas from the Census Bureau report:

Everything is Bigger in Texas

Texas has a growing population.
Texas is now second in overall population behind California with more than 25 million citizens. Texas serves 4.8 million public school students, or just fewer than 10% of all public school students in the United States.

Texas has a growing student population.
More than 71,000 new public school students entered Texas schools in 2011, representing the highest increase of any state in the United States.

Texas has big school districts.
Texas has 18 of the largest 100 school districts in the United States, including six districts in the top 50.  Florida is second with 14 districts.


Texas ranks second as a recipient of Title I revenue.
Texas receives the second highest amount of revenue ($1.6 billion) from the federal government for schools that are designated Title I.  Title I schools represent some of our poorest schools and typically those with the highest academic needs.

Local property taxpayers (not the state) are the primary funding source of Texas public schools.
In Texas 46.03% of the total revenue to finance public school comes from local property taxes. The state of Texas only contributes 38.59% of total school funding. The federal government contributes the remaining 15.38%.

Texas ranks first in property tax contribution to public schools.
Texans contribute more to their public schools from local property taxes than any other state. This means that Texas property owners pay more dollars collectively to subsidize Texas public schools than any other state. In fact, New York—generally recognized as a high tax state—ranks second behind Texas in its total property tax contribution to schools, yet Texans contribute 24% more to the revenue stream than New Yorkers. In other words, Texas property tax owners far outpace “over-taxed” New Yorkers in their share of the burden of financing public schools.


Texas ranks 43rd in per pupil spending.
Texas ranked 43rd out of 51 in per pupil spending in 2011, outpacing states like Tennessee and Mississippi by only a few hundred dollars. (This is not to be confused with the National Education Association study released in 2012, which used a separate calculation and found that Texas ranked #49 in education funding.)  In fact, per pupil spending is down nearly 10% when compared to 2010. This figure accounts for the dollars that are directly spent on students, which is the most consistent means of calculating and comparing spending. Other publicized figures often include education-related spending, such as utility costs, transportation, and supplies.

Texas contributes $0 toward student services.
According to the report, Texas contributed $0 toward compensatory programs such as, special education, vocational programs, and transportation.  These student services are entirely paid for from local or federal revenue sources.

Texas spends less than average on administrator costs.
Texas ranks 42nd in the nation in funding district and campus administrators on a per pupil basis. Texas spends 5.71% of its per student funding allotment ($605 per student) on campus and district level administration. This figure is 24% less than the national average and 300% lower than Washington, D.C., the highest on the list.

Texas’ teacher salaries are below average.
Texas ranks 28th in teacher salaries, but when including benefit costs into the calculation it ranks 40th in the nation. Texas pays its teachers $4,094 per student, which is about $300 less than the national average.  The state of New York, which is comparable in education revenue and population, pays teachers nearly twice that amount with salary costs of $8,196 per student.

When you include benefits in the calculation, Texas falls to 40th in the nation, spending $8,000 less per student than New York. Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri all offer better salary and benefit packages for educators.

Texas ranks last in public school employee benefits.
Texas ranks 51st in the nation in its contribution toward teacher benefits. The state averages $653 per student in benefits for public school employees. This figure is nearly 60% less than the national average.


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  • Jeff Childers

    I’d be curious to see some normative data comparing NY and TX property taxes with values factored. If the property taxes are ranked as percentages that’s about as close to perfect as I think you can get but if it’s in raw dollars spent then Texans are paying much more comparatively no?

    • Jerry Burkett

      That would be very good data to look at. For now, in real dollars, it appears that Texans pay considerably more than New York residents. However, the main issue for Texans to consider is the Constitutional obligation for the state make the primary contribution to fund public schools, not local property owners. If anything, those Texans residents who own high-valued property are paying the brunt of the cost of public schools.

      • Jeff Childers

        Completely agree.

        Bait and switch over Lottery funds would be worth a look as well, that was sold as a primary funding source for public education but by all appearances the entire process has been a net loss.

  • T

    I don’t dispute the data, but some relevant details have been omitted.
    For example, with a lower cost of living, Texas salaries for many professionals are lower than those in other states.
    Also, Texans do not suffer an income tax like many do in other states. Perhaps that explains the reason Texans pay higher property taxes for education. Furthermore, it seems spending less on administration would actually support efforts in the classroom, freeing resources for use by teachers and students.

    • Jerry Burkett

      It it often pointed out by certain political groups that campus and district administrators are overpaid. I use the data set for administration to illustrate the point that Texas administrators are in fact paid much less than the national average. As for teachers, much of the formulas that the state has used to fund education, including salaries (aside from a few adjustments to the state teacher salary schedule), are based on a Cost of Education Index that was last updated in 1991. In other words, the state is funding at the cost of living in 1991 terms. It’s clearly time for an adjustment.

  • Becky mccormick

    51st? What state joined the US when I was not looking?

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