In a recent study reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Texas saw the sixth-highest per pupil decline in education funding levels between 2008 and 2015.
“Austin is losing an astounding 42 percent—nearly half a billion dollars—to the State to pay for education while the State continues to lower its contribution and the education expectations,” said Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice President of Federal, State, Education, Talent, and Advocacy of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. “Austin and most other Central Texas school districts are in danger of crumbling under the burden of serving as a piggybank for the State of Texas when it comes to funding education while wondering what we are getting.”
Currently, Austin hands over more money to the state to subsidize schools in areas that are property poor than any other district in Texas. Less than 60 percent of Austin homeowners’ taxes fund local schools.
The report implies that these cuts mean that student outcomes have worsened which is partly true. Texas' graduation rates did increase to record levels after state cuts in per pupil funding due to lower graduation expectations. 89.6 percent of Texas campuses were rated acceptable by the Texas Education Agency in its most recent ratings.
However, Texas also saw a 28 percent drop in state college and career readiness between 2014 and 2016. Statewide, Texas college readiness rates for high school graduates plummeted from 54 percent to approximately 39 percent between the Class of 2014 and the Class of 2016.
“Money needs to be coupled with higher expectations in line with those of post-secondary education and high performance workplaces,” said Scheberle. “As expectations in the rapidly digitizing workplace are rising, Austin business leaders are concerned that real measures of student progress like college and career readiness are falling.”
For the past 15 years, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, through its Opportunity Austin initiative, has invested nearly $15 million to increase awareness on the importance of higher education and college readiness in the region. One way the Austin Chamber is making a change is through its school partnership program, DTC70.
The initiative is the first collaborative effort between businesses, school districts, and Chamber of Commerce in the Central Texas region. Austin-area school districts that participate in the program graduate more high school graduates—17 percentage points higher than the state’s average—ready for college.
Ultimately, the Legislature must restructure the tax system, expectations of outcomes, and the way communities receive and retain funds through the system. This is a very tall order.
“We encourage Speaker Straus to appoint at least one Austin leader to the Select Committee on School Finance so they can get to work on a local tax and state funding distribution system which will invest in our students and prepare the overwhelming number of our young people for the evolving workplace,” said Scheberle. “If Texas doesn’t move in this direction we risk falling behind states that do.”
Greater Austin Chamber
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce focuses on how the Austin region works. We serve as the voice of business for our member organizations and their employees throughout Central Texas. Our mission is to provide leadership that facilitates the creation of a prosperous regional economy and effective advocacy for members.