Since before the start of the 86th Texas Legislative session, our state’s leaders have prioritized reforming our state’s broken school finance system. Further, both the House and Senate have proposed substantial increases in state funding for public education. If Texas is going to realize the student academic outcomes needed for economic prosperity, we must invest significant new dollars into our public schools. In deciding how to allocate a portion of these new dollars, we encourage our lawmakers to look to the blueprint by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance.
In 2018, that bipartisan commission unanimously approved 35 recommendations to significantly reform our state’s broken school finance system. The commission heavily emphasized improving outcomes for Texas’ 5.4 million students by providing more resources for all students, allocating resources towards students in greatest need of support and targeting a portion of those resources toward critical academic gateways.
One such academic gateway is 3rd grade literacy. Texas currently ranks 46th nationally in early literacy proficiency. To combat this abysmal rating, the commission recommended spending additional funds for every low-income and/or English-language-learning student from kindergarten through 3rd grade. The commission noted that Texas’ student population has shifted and that low-income students now represent nearly 60 percent of public school enrollment. Academic achievement rates for this student population, as well as English language learners, is just one-half to one-third of their more affluent or native-English speaking peers. The additional funding proposed could fund full day Pre-K, dual language instruction and summer instruction for students falling behind — all strategies known to improve student outcomes.
A separate allocation, less than 2 percent of our total budget in public education, recommended by the commission would provide even more funding to ensure that all students are reading proficiently by 3rd grade, a critical measure for future academic attainment. This recommendation — outcomes-based funding — offers an opportunity for greater strategic investment for students who need it the most. For every student reading by 3rd grade, a district would receive additional funding, and if that student is low income, the district receives over twice that amount.
Such a strategy would prioritize resources towards early literacy, setting up more of our youngest learners for success. In fact, funding for schools would increase as more students become proficient: If the state reaches the commission’s recommended 60 percent literacy goal, outcomes-based funding would double to over $800 million, and 90 percent of that growth would be directed towards low-income students.
The ability to read by 3rd grade has and will always be extraordinarily important for every student. By providing sufficient resources for each child’s early foundation, with additional funding to reward strategic investment, Texas has a tremendous opportunity to begin to meaningfully transform the prospects of the 3.1 million low-income and English-learning students in Texas. The possibility to do better by our students is more tangible than ever.
Disclosure: Todd Williams has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.