Gov. Rick Perry says the state’s public schools are improving -- in part, he suggested, because state aid is way up. "Over the past decade," Perry said in his Feb. 8 State of the State address, "the state’s share of public education spending increased from $11 billion per year to $20 billion in ‘09. That’s an 82 percent increase."
Our first pass at his analysis proved a snap after reaching the Legislative Budget Board, which advises lawmakers on budgetary matters. Its staff spokesman, John Barton, said the board shared spending figures with Perry before his speech. Separately, Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier pointed us to a chart showing that in 2000, state aid totaled around $10 billion and the board’s 2008-09 "Fiscal Size-up" projected the aid to be about double that in 2009.
Barton said the state spent $11.1 billion on public education aid in 2000. According to LBB staff, the state spent $20.3 billion on such aid in 2009--$9.2 billion, or 84 percent, more than before.
What drove the increase? More students, for starters. Texas public schools served more than 4.8 million students in 2008-09, the Texas Education Agency says -- 20 percent more than in 1998-99.
What else? School finance expert and lobbyist Lynn Moak, whose clients include a consortium of the state’s largest school districts, said other factors that boosted state aid between 1998-99 and 2008-09 included legislated increases in teacher pay and health care coverage, supported by increasing local tax revenue driven by surging property values.
Moak said another major factor driving state aid was the 2006 decision by GOP lawmakers and Perry to mandate lower school property taxes and make up the difference in lost revenue going forward. According to LBB research, nearly $18.6 billion in state aid went to the schools in 2008 compared with $12.1 billion in 2006, before the tax swap took effect. Meanwhile, local funds spent on public education dropped slightly to $18.2 billion in 2008, compared with $19.9 billion in 2006. All told, school spending (from federal, state and local funds) amounted to nearly $41 billion in 2008.
But school districts in 2008-09 also had more money to spend per pupil, according to TEA calculations included in year-by-year pocket guides to school statistics. In 1998-99, operating expenditures averaged $5,668 per pupil. Adjusting for inflation, that amount would have been about $6,720 by 2008-09. The actual per-pupil operating expenditure was $8,572, the TEA says.
The guides reminded us of another way to size up state spending on public education: by comparing it to the total spent from all sources, meaning local, state and federal funds. According to the guides, the state picked up 46 percent of school districts’ spending in 1998-99. That share was less than 43 percent in 2008-09. During Perry’s decade as governor, the state’s portion hit a low of 34 percent in 2005-06 and a high of 45 percent in 2007-08.
So, the state spent 84 percent more money in 2008-09 than before and per-student spending from all funding sources also was higher. Yet the state’s share of education spending -- a telling indicator of state support for the schools -- was down from what it was a decade earlier.
We contacted Perry’s office about these aspects. Frazier said the governor stands behind his speech statement.
We rate the statement Half True.