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In 2011, the Texas government cut $5.4 billion from the budget for public schools; thousands of teachers were laid off. (If you open the links, you will see that the NPR report says the budget cut was “over $4 billion” and describes the devastating impact on schools, but the actual figure was $5.4 billion in cuts.) In the seven years then, the state has restored some of that deep cut, but the enrollment in the schools has far outstripped any increases in the budget.
The state created a commission to study school finance, which recently issued its report. Its most controversial recommendation is “outcomes-based funding.” Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, reviews that report today at Valerie Strauss’s “The Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post, based on a careful review of the evidence about “outcomes-based funding.”
Texas has a problem. After years of inadequately and inequitably funding its public schools, the chickens have come home to roost. Texas now ranks 46th in the country in fourth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress reading proficiency, dropping from its previous dismal rank of 41 in 2015. For several years there has also been discontent around the college readiness of its high school students.
The Texas decline should come as no surprise. For nearly a decade, the state has decreased its funding for schools, making an inequitable school funding system even more unequal. The rapid expansion of charter schools has further drained public schools of funds.
Texas public schools have two revenue streams — the local property tax and state funding. State funding is supposed to make the system more equitable — closing the gap between districts that are property poor and property rich. Texas itself is not a poor state and yet state funding has steadily decreased.
Last fall, UT News estimated the decline in state revenue to schools to be close to 12.6 percent per pupil between 2008 to 2017, despite a 13.7 percent increase in student enrollment.
In order to address the problem, the Texas Commission for Public School Finance was created. Last month it issued its final report, “Funding for Impact: Funding for Students Who Need it the Most.” As its title notes, the commission concluded that school funding should be redesigned to provide “equitable funding for students who need it the most.” This is critical in a state where nearly 40 percent of all households are supported by single moms living in poverty.
There are some good things in the report. The commission acknowledged that poverty matters and preschool should be expanded. It also proposed the usual ineffective and harmful ideas like evaluating teachers by test scores and merit pay.
But perhaps the most startling feature of the report is its recommendation to use outcomes-based funding as a critical component of the school funding system. Outcomes-based education funding is highly controversial. It is ineffective and can make inequities worse. And this Texas version, which is especially bad, will result in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer with funding going to students who need it the least, not the most.
What is outcomes-based funding in education?
Outcomes-based funding, also known as performance-based funding, is based on the belief that if schools are paid for performance, better outcomes will result. It carries with it the unspoken assumption that somehow teachers and principals are “slackers” and have far more control of how students perform on tests than they are willing to admit. The foremost Florida legislative advocate of performance funding was described as believing this: “[Y]ou could get performance altered by money. If you put a pot of money out there, people would change their behavior in order to chase that money.”