School districts in Texas with large percentages of nonwhite minorities receive, on average, about $830 less per student than predominantly white school districts, according to a new national report.
Nationally, nonwhite school districts receive about $23 billion less than their counterparts and Texas falls lower than the national average of $2,226 per student, according to a report by EdBuild, a New Jersey-based nonprofit working to reform education funding methods across the nation.
But local school leaders argue that while the state’s system for funding education desperately needs to be reworked, the problem isn’t one of ethnicity.
“While I do not think the funding system in Texas is fair and I agree that we need more funding for low-income students regardless of race, I absolutely do not agree with a report saying that the difference has anything to do with race,” said Margaret Lee, the assistant superintendent of business and operations at Texas City Independent School District.
Only a few Galveston County school districts meet the study’s definition of a nonwhite school district where 75 percent of the student population identifies as nonwhite. Hitchcock Independent School District, with a 23.3 percent white population, has the lowest percentage in the county, according to a 2017 Texas Education Agency district snapshot report.
Dickinson, Galveston and Texas City school districts have minority populations greater than 70 percent, but do not quite meet the 75 percent threshold, according to state records.
About 26 percent of students nationwide are enrolled in predominantly white districts, compared to about 27 percent enrolled in nonwhite districts, according to the study.
Lee, however, argues the report failed to consider federal funding, a big source of money for at-risk and low-income student programs.
“All districts are subject to the same formulas to calculate revenue and the inputs include tax collections and weighted average daily attendance,” Lee said. “No more weight is given to a white student versus a black student, but low-income students do receive a higher weight.”
Several local education officials, such as Galveston’s Superintendent Kelli Moulton, said they didn’t have a perspective on the study.
But Galveston’s board President Anthony Brown said it was his understanding that much of the state’s school finance issues stem from trying to correct problems the report cites.
More and more school boards across Galveston County are forced to adopt deficit budgets as they struggle with myriad issues. Those include increasingly large payments to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood funding program, which “recaptures” local property tax revenue and sends it to other districts.
Recapture is part of state legislation created in 1993. Under the law, tax revenue for maintenance and operation from property-wealthy school districts, such as Galveston and Texas City, is taken and distributed to property-poor school districts.
If Galveston could take back even half of what it pays in recapture each year, that could have dramatic effects on the programs the district could offer, Brown said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said reforming the funding system for public schools is a priority in the 86th Texas Legislative Session, but opinions are varied on what, exactly, reform would look like.
The Texas House has proposed a budget that would add $9 billion to education and enact property tax reform, while the Senate suggests giving pay raises to teachers and $2.3 billion to decrease the state’s reliance on property taxes, according to the Texas Tribune.
The legislative session runs until May 27.