EDITOR’S NOTE: As the Texas Legislature deliberates on finding ways to balance the state’s budget shortfall, education funding has become a politically charged issue. This is the first in a continuing series focusing on state funding for education.

• First in a series

Avalon ISD Superintendent David Del Bosque muses about what he would do with the extra $26,940 per classroom Austin ISD receives under target revenue.

Lawsuits and school finance reform notwithstanding, the state of Texas remains a state of inequity. It was during a special session of the state Legislature held in 2006 to address the issue that the so-called “target revenues” were established.

Target revenues aren’t the same for every district, however. There’s actually quite a disparity, with the lowest paid district set at a target revenue of $3,898 per weighted student, while the district receiving the most money under target revenue receives $13,088 per weighted student.

As an example, Avalon ISD’s target revenue is $4,755 per weighted student, ranking it amongst the lowest 3 percent of the state’s 1,025 independent school districts.

Austin ISD’s target revenue? That would be $6,102 – a starting difference of $1,347 per student between Austin and Avalon ISDs.

Carrying those numbers over a classroom of 20 students yields a $26,940 difference in funding.

“The difference in funding between Avalon and Austin is roughly $27,000 per classroom and yet we teach the same basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic,” Del Bosque said. “Both districts have to meet TAKS requirements, yet I still have to do it for (much less) per weighted student.

“What if I could go to our kindergarten class and say, ‘I have $27,000 more to put in your classroom, what can I do for you today?’ What if I could tell my teacher, ‘Now, we are funded like Austin.’ Imagine what we could do if we were funded fairly,” Del Bosque said, whose district – despite the difference in funding – has attained recognized status under the Texas Education Agency the past five years.

“You have another school district receiving $26,940 more per classroom. That’s every classroom, not just one. It’s unbelievable (the funding difference). It boggles the mind the amount of inequity that exists,” Del Bosque said. “We have the same hopes, the same dreams and the same aspirations – and we’re not funded equitably.

“Think about it. On a per pupil basis, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Del Bosque, emphasizing he’s not advocating for other districts to be cut, but that lower-funded districts be raised up to their level.

Ellis County ISDs

vs. Austin ISD

No Ellis County ISD receives equal to or greater than Austin ISD’s $6,102 per weighted student and only two of the county’s 10 ISDs receive more than the state average: Midlothian at $5,617 and Waxahachie at $5,553.

Averaged as a whole, Ellis County receives less in target revenue – at $5,131 – than both the state average of $5,455 and the state median of $5,152 per weighted student.

Avalon ISD receives the least in target revenue at $4,755, followed in ascending order by Italy at $4,957, Ferris at $4,975, Palmer at $5,012, Maypearl at $5,034, Ennis at $5,087, Red Oak at $5,130 and Milford at $5,193.

Dr. Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, testified earlier this month in front of the Senate Finance Committee.

“We have all known for some time that target revenue hold-harmless is unfair, inequitable, arbitrarily determined and, by its very nature, is not and cannot be related to actual costs of providing educational opportunities. It has quite possibly become the most inefficient use of Texas public education funds in recent times,” Pierce said.

“While it is certainly defensible to hold districts harmless at prior funding levels for a limited transitional period to a new system, after five years that excuse has lost its legitimacy,” he said. “TRHH has gone on far too long and must be recognized for what it has become – an entitlement for a group of privileged districts that comes at the expense of all other districts.”

Major cut looming

The proposed state budget, as it stands, has set out a $10 billion cut in public education over the next biennium. Handled as an across-the-board cost-saving measure, with more than 4.8 million students in the system, the cut equates to about $2,083 per head.

Of all the ways to slash $10 billion from the budget, an across-the-board, straight percentage cut is the one Del Bosque worries about the most for his district.

As computed by education consultants Moak, Casey & Associates, an across-the-board general fund reduction equates to 14.956 percent, with Del Bosque saying the effect of an arbitrary cut isn’t the same from one district to another because of the differences that exist in their funding to begin with.

“If the state does equal cuts of unequals and the school district that received $13,000 (in target revenue per weighted student) reduces by 15 percent and the district that received $4,000 reduces by 15 percent, which one do you think is going to have more difficulty making budget cuts (on the local level)?” Del Bosque asks.

In other words, a district receiving disproportionately more money to begin with still has more money in the end to absorb such a cut by the state.

As an example, Westbrook ISD, which receives $13,088 in target revenue per weighted student, gets $261,760 per classroom of 20 students. If it is cut 15 percent, Westbrook still has $222,496 coming in as funding.

Under a 15-percent cut, Austin ISD would see a reduction in funding (per classroom of 20) from $122,040 to $103,734.

Under the “equal cut to unequals” scenario, Avalon ISD’s funding drops to $80,835 per a classroom of 20 – almost a $23,000 difference in funding when compared to Austin ISD and $141,661 when comparing to Westbrook ISD.

Three potential scenarios

In trying to assist districts with how the $10 billion in funding might be cut, Moak, Casey & Associates has prepared three possible scenarios as to how the state may proceed.

The first scenario takes into consideration a pro-rata formula along with state aid received as part of the 2006 tax reduction to homeowners. The second scenario is based on a 14.956 percent across-the-board reduction. The third scenario cuts the basic allotment, among other measures.

How a district fares under any of the three scenarios depends on several variables, including property wealth.

As an example, Midlothian and Waxahachie ISDs fare best under a straight, across-the-board 15-percent reduction, while that scenario represents the worst possible impact on the county’s other eight districts: Avalon, Ennis, Ferris, Italy, Maypearl, Milford, Palmer and Red Oak.

Based on the Casey, Moak & Associates numbers, Ellis County ISDs could see cuts ranging as follows:

• Avalon ISD – $103,104 to $464,046

• Ennis ISD – $4,113,099 to $5,878,089

• Ferris ISD – $1,036,852 to $2,645,309

• Italy ISD – $315,663 to $793,191

• Maypearl ISD – $787,307 to $1,280,670

• Midlothian ISD – $7,830,547 to $10,323,220

• Milford ISD – $222,791 to $355,277

• Palmer ISD – $698,236 to $1,358,360

• Red Oak ISD – $3,320,559 to $5,678,512

• Waxahachie ISD – $7,608,309 to $8,851,961

How the state Legislature intends to handle the cuts per specific district remains to be seen. The budget bills in the House and Senate at this time call only for the $10 billion cut in the appropriation to public education. Separate legislation – which has yet to be filed – will determine how those cuts unfold.

The Casey, Moak & Associates scenarios represent possibilities for districts to consider as they begin their budgeting process this spring.

To try and be as prepared as possible, Del Bosque said he’s been crunching numbers on five different potential budgets.

By the numbers

According to Texas Education Agency data for 2009-2010, the state has more than 4.8 million students, more than half of which are economically disadvantaged and with 17 percent of limited English proficiency.

The state has 1,030 school districts (1,025 of which are independent school districts) and 207 charter operators. Of the districts, 714 (or 69 percent) serve 999 students or less.

Contact JoAnn at joann@wninews.com or 469-517-1452.