in Houston, Texas
Nonprofit group sees ‘no real financial accountability’ in Texas public schools
Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012, 01:35PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
cash register

If you don’t think there is a deeply rooted ideological battle going on between your public education system and the rest of the world, we recommend you take this little test.

But first, a little background. The Texas Education Accountability Project issued a report it titled No Financial Accountability, the result of two years of trying to make head or tail of the spending of tax dollars on and by Texas public schools.

“What we found was startling – namely, there is no real financial accountability for K-12 public education in Texas,” the report’s executive summary says. “In a system of public education that in aggregate spent nearly $55 billion in the 2008-2009 school year and which increased spending per student by nearly 63% over (the) preceding decade (almost twice the rate of inflation), it is almost impossible for any average citizen who does not work for a school district to have any idea of how taxpayer funds are used.”

Mark Hurley, founder of the nonprofit project he says is also nonpartisan, expressed a finely calibrated exasperation in the report and in his comments to the San Antonio Express-News.

The Legislature and public have no real way of knowing what is appropriate spending because no measurable objectives and no metrics to test the public school system exist, Hurley says.

How are the Texas courts to decide the lawsuits covering more than 500 school districts complaining that they have been chronically underfunded?

“We call this the uninformed being evaluated by the equally uninformed,” Hurley, CEO of a private equity investment firm in Dallas, told the Express-News. “No one outside the school district actually can understand where the money is going. This is not a fault of the school districts. This is a structural failure.”

The phrase “impossible for any average citizen,” from the executive summary is key. Impenetrable enough for those who have tried to unlock the secrets of public school finance, how districts decide what are the right number of teachers or administrators, or hack their way through the Texas Education Agency data thicket.

Now here’s the challenge, as recommended by, the Web page for Texas school officials. Joe Smith, executive director of the site and a retired Hudson ISD school superintendent, suggests first reading the comments of Gwen Santiago, executive director of the Texas Association of School Business Officials, in a story about the Accountability Project report by the Austin American-Statesman.

When asked to read the report and offer her opinion, Santiago pronounced the financial dealings of the school districts readily apparent for all to see.

“They didn’t do their research very well,” Santiago told the Statesman.

How can this be when the schools and the state invest so much time and money in a labyrinthine tunnel pouring out to the Texas Education Agency? Lori Taylor, a public policy professor at Texas A&M University, told the Statesman an expert might understand.

“However, for the concerned citizen with less computing power, the flood of data is not very informative,” Taylor says.

As Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokesperson for the Texas Association of School Administrators, offered to the Express-News:

“The current system of tracking education funds is no doubt complicated, but no more complicated than the school finance system itself,” she said.

Now that you’ve finished, do you understand public school finance any better? If not, ask yourself which experts you believe.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo 'Old Cash Register' by flickr user Jo Jakeman, used via a Creative Commons license.

Jack C. Pickard
Wednesday, 03/28/2012 - 04:10PM

I believe the state of Texas has failed the students and well as the Federal Government, with a pile of red tape that has built up the amount of money spent on Administration and Maintenance and decreased the amount of money spent on each individual student. The Texas Education Agency and the Fed should both be completely defunded. Then all taxes should be dealt with at the local School Board. Their should be only one school board in each county! 1 Superintendent, ! Assistant Superintendent, no more than 5 Staff members, all the rest of the funds utilized to pay for teachers, utilities, maintenance and basic education, with two additional focus areas in High School.; vocational training for non-college bound students and pre-college prep work for college bound students. All other activities including competitive sports programs must be supported by private organizations after school hours, no exceptions. Actual Physical Education should be required for all students 1 hour per day. Actual Home Economics should be a required Senior Year Course for all students, with practicals in such things as balancing check books, cooking basics, sewing basics, etc. If a student can't or won't participate in a college bound program they will be moved to a vocational program to teach a needed trade. Later if this student wants to go College Bound, then at his cost or his parents cost he can receive residual training to qualify him for college level training. Success is teacher motivated and student driven and requires partent support! Fed abd State Governments have never righted a wrong, it must be done at the Local Government Level by the people who care. America is success driven, if the local school in unable to meet its obligations then private entities will and it is a win win situation.

Wednesday, 03/28/2012 - 06:55PM

Same at it ever was.

Connie Sadowski
Thursday, 03/29/2012 - 07:05PM

Texas Watchdog has done it again! Keeping Texas informed is your specialty, and you did it yet again! Good questions and reporting. We must ask, "How much money is enough for ISDs."

If schools can't or won't be transparent, parents and taxpayers must demand it. How can we give ISDs more money, when they can't or won't transparently and accurately tell us where the money is going?

Don't know how much your ISD gets per student, how much is spent on instruction?

Find your ISD Snapshot, put together by the Texas Education Agency using district numbers (through PEIMS) here

Then go ask your ISD Board Members to be more transparent and ask them why they need more money, and

ask them if they are suing the State of Texas (you and I) for more taxpayer dollars.

Sick 'em Watchdogs, for our students and teachers!

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