Testimony in the lawsuit brought by 600 Texas districts against the state government kicked off this week, with Monday seeing school funding expert Lynn Moak describe the state's funding situation. Moak told the court and the presiding state District Judge John Dietz that the amount of funding provided to the schools is insufficient for allowing districts to meet the new, more rigorous academic standards mandated by the state.
According to Moak's testimony, it would take about $8 billion a year in additional spending to make meeting such goals a realistic undertaking, in light of the fact that nearly half of high school freshmen attending Texas schools last year are not currently on track to graduate on time.
Moak is a key witnesses in the trial because of his long experience with school finance issues, beginning in 1966 when he served as a research assistant for a special public education-related committee appointed by Gov. John Connally. Moak, a partner in the Moak-Casey education consulting firm, testified for all four school district groups involved in the lawsuit.
In his testimony, Moak said that in addition to restoring more than $2.5 billion in funding cuts — done by lawmakers in an effort to balance the state budget last year — the legislature needs to provide an additional $6 billion more to meet its educational obligation under the Texas Constitution. He said that unless the funding is restored in the near future, Texas students are going to continue to fall behind at an increasing rate. He noted that the economy of the future is going to require better educated employees, and preparing them is not a task the Texas education system is coping well with.
The recent budget cuts have been been especially difficult for districts that have a larger than average number of low-income students. Students from low-income families now make up more than 60% of the state's 5 million student population, and only 40% of them have passed the latest round of 9th grade assessment exams which are required for high school graduation.
Republican legislators last year cut $4 billion from public education formulas and another $1.3 billion in special grants, such as full-day Pre K programs for low-income children and student success initiatives for tutoring and summer school programs to help struggling students.
Moak said he could not assess the impact on schools and students.
"I do not know of any significant legislative review to determine if these programs were not needed or were not producing good results," he said.
According to the testimony, the state's per-student spend for 2013 is estimated to be $6,293 – a steep drop from the 2009 high of $7,415.
To fill their budgetary shortfalls and to fund capital improvement projects and equipment purchases, many Texas school districts have turned to bond issues. A recent report by the state's Comptroller Susan Combs indicated that districts are more than $63.6 billion in the hole, as of 2011, with about 8 in 10 currently carrying at least some debt.