A state senator opposed to a proposal intended to enable some children to attend private schools with government aid asserted that Texas already has a hard time keeping pace with other states.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, told Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, during an April 9 committee meeting that “we in the state of Texas are 49th in the country in what we are doing to support our per-pupil investment in education in the state.” She added that she prefers to prioritize putting dollars into the public schools.
A reader asked us to check that ranking.
Davis’ spokesman told us she was referring to a report described in a Feb. 22 Dallas Morning News article stating that preliminary figures released by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, indicate Texas schools are spending $8,400 per student this year. The national average is $11,455, the report said, putting Texas’ per-student expenditures below every state save Arizona and Nevada. Texas also trailed the District of Columbia, ranking 49th among 51 jurisdictions.
For that measure, the report looked at per-student spending based on average daily attendance (the aggregate attendance of a school during a reporting period divided by the number of days school is in session that period). Expenses that factored into the equation included salaries for school personnel, student transportation, school books and materials and energy costs.
A wrinkle: Part of the report says that in making useful comparisons among states, a different way of counting students, fall enrollment, is preferred to average daily attendance because of its standardized definition. Based on fall enrollment, the report says, Texas is spending an estimated $7,886 per pupil, less than every state except Utah and Arizona.
So, it looks as if two states trail Texas in per-pupil spending, either way you count students.
The report also shows spending by each state’s schools on interest on debt and capital outlays, which conservative observers such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation have said should always be taken into account when making state-by-state comparisons. On the flip side, Frank Johnson, a statistician with the National Center for Education Statistics, has told us the center doesn’t take into account capital outlays in estimating per-pupil spending because such costs can create false assumptions about what’s spent on instructional programs, school supplies and teachers.
Still, we wondered how Texas stacks up by all expenditures per pupil, including costs to build schools. The education association report does not present such a calculation, so we made our own run, dividing the total spending for each state by the state’s average daily attendance. By this approach, it appears that total Texas school spending breaks out to nearly $11,090 per pupil, placing Texas 38th nationally, ahead of states including California, Georgia, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Our ruling: Davis said Texas ranks 49th in “what we are doing to support our per-pupil investment in education in the state.” A report drawing on states’ figures estimates Texas is spending $7,886 or $8,400 per student this year, depending on how students are counted. Both ways, Texas ranks third to last among the states.
Folding in capital outlays, other education expenditures and interest on debt, total estimated spending in Texas of nearly $11,090 per pupil lands the state 38th among the states. But the senator focused on state investment which, unlike locally determined debt and capital outlays, is driven by legislative action. Our sense is that this is the appropriate comparison. Davis’ claim rates as Mostly True.
Statement: Says Texas ranks 49th nationally in “what we are doing to support our per-pupil investment in education in the state.”