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Texas Schools Need Money and Efficiencies

Here is the conversation I would love for us to have in Texas: We would talk both about investing in public schools and the need for schools to spend money more efficiently. Often, we seem to get locked into an either/or debate, when we need a yes/and discussion.

The school spending side of the issue certainly has been elevated recently, with advocacy groups and even GOP Sen. Steve Ogden proposing a special session to make up for the 2011 Legislature’s cuts in education spending. That does not seem likely. For one thing, the state has a big Medicaid bill that it needs to fund first.

But I hope the Legislature tries next year to make amends. Here is one area where the knife really hurt: Austin cut almost $400 million from the Student Success Initiative, which means money the state once invested in a variety of interventions to help struggling students largely vanished.

That was bad. But at the same time, legislators should not let up emphasizing that schools must get bangs for their bucks.

I heard a presentation this morning about how districts spend money nationally on teachers. Karen Hawley Miles of Education Resource Strategies told an Educate Texas conference in Austin that salaries make up about 42 percent of overall teacher spending. Another 27 percent goes to pay teachers for the longevity of their service. Twenty-four percent goes for benefits. And about eight percent goes for other areas, such as taking on more responsibilities or getting a graduate degree.

Is that the right mix? I don’t know, but I would love to hear a discussion about that breakdown within our school districts and the Legislature.

We could get that discussion, along with one about adding money, if we thought of school spending as about both sufficient dollars and greater efficiencies.

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