We Texans love to compare ourselves with California; we have created more private sector jobs, have a lower tax burden and lower unemployment rate, and folks are leaving the formerly 'Golden' State in droves to seek Lone Star prosperity. Without a doubt, there is much to cheer. There is one area, however, where indeed Texas is bigger, but it is nothing to celebrate.
Both states love to tout their per pupil spending, and on the surface Texas looks pretty good at $6,746 to California's $7,511. As I've pointed out previously, these per pupil statistics do not include the cost of pensions, debt service, or building/construction costs, and are seriously deceptive. When all expenditures are included Texas per pupil spending rises to $11,024, and California's to $11,800.
Not too bad, right?
Unfortunately, a comparison of certain other aspects of education spending in the two states paints a whole new picture. As it turns out Texas has more public school employees than any state in the nation. California has 1.6 million more students than Texas, but has 1,225 fewer schools, and a jaw-dropping 52,090 fewer total education personnel. While we would hope that most of our public school employees would consist of those folks who actually teach, only 51% of Texas public education employees are teachers.
In the face of potential budget cuts, Texas education bureaucrats are demanding more spending rather than cuts. However, as Governor Perry pointed out in his State of the State address last week, State spending on education has increased 82% over the last decade. Even more astounding is the fact that total Texas public school expenditures have increased 335% since 1987. While we would hope that such vast increases in spending would improve student performance, an examination of the NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) results reveal that Texas student test scores have remained stagnant or have actually decreased during this period.
Many Texas school districts are claiming they will have to close schools due to budget cuts, and yes, some probably will. However, many of these districts, and the state education industry as a whole, have not applied their respective budgets appropriately. Cutting amounts of state spending on education will force closer examination of how those 'education' dollars are spent. In so doing, we need to remember that our public education system does not exist to provide jobs and pensions for all comers, but was established to provide educational opportunities to all children. Texas has done a great job of applying small but smart government standards to other areas, and this has led to our economic strength. Now it's time to get serious about education spending too.