Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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School finance is easily the most complex and perplexing of all public education advocacy issues. Our state constitution requires the Legislature to provide an efficient system of free public education. In Texas, the state’s complicated system of funding public schools has been subjected to repeated litigation, often arising from claims that it fails to meet the constitutional requirements of adequacy and equity.

The state’s method of funding public schools has been at the center of ongoing debates. Local property taxes are the primary source of revenue for financing public education, and Texas has a longstanding prohibition on imposing a statewide property tax. Due to disparities in property values and the fact that tax rates are established locally, the tax revenue generated by each school district varies greatly. The state has employed numerous measures in an attempt to equalize per-pupil funding from district to district, including a system of “recapture” that some have referred to as a “Robin Hood” system whereby wealthier districts share revenues with the state or other districts unable to generate as much money through local property taxes. 

Adding to the school finance system’s complexity are the charter schools that have proliferated in Texas, creating an additional funding burden for Texas taxpayers. Because charter schools are run by private operators rather than elected school boards, they do not have the ability to levy local taxes and must be funded, primarily with other taxes collected by the state. The challenge of adequately funding the state’s existing public schools is one of many reasons ATPE has opposed attempts to fund private school vouchers with taxpayer dollars, as well as the unrestrained expansion of charter schools that compete with traditional public schools for limited taxpayer dollars.

Texas’ school funding system has undergone revisions during most legislative sessions, including a few special sessions mandated by court rulings. Frequently, the Legislature has applied short-term fixes along with “hold harmless” provisions to ensure that individual school districts do not experience a dramatic loss of funding when the laws are tweaked. Major changes were made to the school finance system in 2019 with the passage of a more comprehensive reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3, by the 86th Texas Legislature. In addition to putting more money toward schools and teacher compensation, the bill also adjusted weights that are applied to funding formulas for certain populations of students that have greater needs.

Each budget cycle, the U.S. Congress decides how much it will appropriate for the numerous education programs that fall under these federal laws, as well as funding for the U.S. Department of Education that administers them under the direction of the Secretary of Education. Additionally, the department oversees the dissemination of funds to schools through discretionary federal grants, which often reflect the policy priorities of the president. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress also approved extra funding for schools that was similarly distributed by the Department of Education to the states. As a complement to our Texas-based advocacy work, ATPE contracts with lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to lobby for federal funding and preventing those federal education dollars from being diverted from public schools.

ATPE believes all students have the right to a quality public education that is fully and equitably funded. We believe the state should be the primary funding source for our public schools and provide stable, sustainable revenue that will meet the needs of our growing student population.

Read our member-adopted ATPE Legislative Program to learn more about our positions on school funding. Find additional information about ATPE’s advocacy efforts related to this issue on our Teach the Vote blog.