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Thursday, May 7, 2015 by Courtney Griffin
AISD, others ask state for $3 billion in new funding
Three members from the Austin Independent School District board stood with more than 20 other school districts at the State Capitol on Wednesday to ask legislators for $3 billion in additional statewide school funding.
“For AISD, this figure is vital,” said District 2 Board Member Jayme Mathias. “AISD in the past month has slipped to the 10th district out of 10 in terms of teacher pay. … We are not able to remain competitive, so this funding that would allow exactly that.”
In the current public school financing system, a large portion of AISD’s local tax revenue goes back to the state for redistribution to poorer districts.
The district expects to put about $175 million into state pockets this year, said Nicole Conley, AISD’s chief financial officer. That number equates to about 55 percent of AISD’s total tax revenue.
“We’re the highest payer of recapture,” Conley said. “Last year, we were almost 11 percent of the state’s total collections. The Central Texas area represents almost a quarter of all the recapture payments.”
The recaptured funds are a result of Texas’ so-called “Robin Hood” school finance system, adopted in 1991. Under the system, the state takes money from property-rich districts and redistributes them to property-poor districts.
However, the constitutionality of Texas’ public education funding is currently under review by the Texas Supreme Court. Several bills in both the state House and Senate — the main contender being HB 1759 from Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) — also seek to find a solution.
The system has hit AISD particularly hard lately. The district is digging into its reserves to stay afloat next year, with a $32 million deficit that is partly due to recaptured funds and declining student enrollment.
Local tax revenue aside, the other main piece of school funding is from state contributions based on students’ average daily attendance. Competition from private and charter schools and the rising cost of living in the city has caused AISD’s enrollment to drop. According to Texas Education Agency reports, AISD’s enrollment dropped by more than 800 students from 2013-2015. School officials say they expect the trend to continue.
The additional $3 billion in statewide funds would help, Conley said, but a major update to school financing is also needed because the state is currently operating under formulas that are 30 years old. These measurements calculate the cost of education for economically disadvantaged students, the general cost of education and transportation costs, but the formulas do not adjust for inflation.
“The outdated formulas, plus the fact that we are sending more and more money to the state in local property taxes, adversely affect school districts,” Conley said.
She added that even though AISD is property-wealthy, “most of the families we serve are economically disadvantaged,” and lack of funding affects services to those families, among other things. Nearly 60 percent of AISD students are economically disadvantaged, according to a TEA report.
In addition, AISD’s recently proposed 1.5 percent raise for AISD employees and teachers with more than five years’ experience next year does little to keep the district competitive, said Mathias.
“That is nothing; it doesn’t even keep up with the (cost of living adjustments),” Conley said. “We can’t keep high-quality teachers in the classroom if we can’t afford to pay them. They can’t even afford to live in Austin.”
The $3 billion sum comes from the House’s late-March education budgetary allotment proposal, which would help heal the more than $5 billion slashed from public education in 2011. It competes with the Senate’s less-than-half proposal of $1.4 billion. A House/Senate budget conference committee is currently considering the two versions.
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