While almost all states cut education funding following the Great Recession, and few have restored budgets back to pre-recession levels, there is little understanding among policy makers about how state funding cuts were distributed across districts.
When Texas cut K-12 education budgets by $4 billion in 2011, legislators reached a compromise over whether to cut funding evenly for all districts, or whether to protect high-need districts. This policy brief shows that despite state legislators’ efforts, the highest-poverty districts in Texas experienced a disproportionate share of the recessionary budget cuts. Although this trend holds nationally, the funding gap between rich and poor districts expanded by more in Texas than in 43 other states around the country. The policy brief then describes idiosyncrasies within the Texas school finance system that prevented high-poverty districts from maintaining equitable funding levels, despite their relatively larger increases in local tax rates.
While all regions in Texas would benefit from leveling up funding in high-poverty districts, Region 19 would see larger increases in average per-pupil funding than any other region in the state, given its high poverty rates and lower funding levels. Providing equitable funding across Texas school districts, without lowering funding in wealthier districts, would require a 17% increase in state education funding and cost the state $9.1 billion.
This policy brief is particularly timely given the recent State Supreme Court decision in Texas that found the school finance system constitutional, but in severe need of reform. Legislators are currently pushing for further study of the state finance system in preparation for the upcoming legislative session.