The 86th session of the Texas legislature just ended. What really happened?

The Economist says “Hide your crazy.” That the Republicans and the Democrats collaborated to both raise school spending and cut taxes. How was that possible?

Unlike the federal government, the states can neither borrow long term (bonds) nor simply print more money. The booming economy, especially the fracking revolution is projected to allow both parties to claim victory.

Anyone who has lived in Texas knows that oil booms have come and gone. There was once a bumper sticker, “God, please give us another boom. We swear this time we won’t piss it away.” All the previous booms have eventually drawn to a close. I doubt that this one will be different.

What else could be done? Over half of the state budget goes to K12 education. Finding good information on total school spending is very difficult, perhaps for nefarious reasons.

The CATO Institute published a study on the real cost of public schools in 2010, the most recent that I can find. In 2009, the Houston School District stated that it spent $8,418/pupil. These are “current” expenses, they do not include capital costs, debt service, or employee benefits. The real spending in 2009 was actually $12,534 — 49% higher. Of course, all these numbers will be much higher in 2019-2020.

The total cost nationwide to educate a student from K to 12 has increased from $55,000 to $165,000 — 180% in inflation-adjusted dollars. For NO statistically significant results.

Objective test scores are unchanged in this time period. No wonder that the Clintons and the Obamas sent their own children to Sidwell Friends, not the Washington D.C. public schools.

In comparison, the average private school in Houston spent $9,421 — 33% less than the public schools. When my own children were in elementary school in the 1980s, the public school lobby was loudly proclaiming that $4,500 was the minimum necessary to teach students. Our Episcopal school spent and charged $2,250. Scholarships were provided by the congregation for students who could not afford tuition.

Newark, New Jersey, offers an interesting example. Sen. Cory Booker was the mayor of Newark on Sept. 24, 2010 when he appeared on Oprah to advocate for charter schools. Along with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, he managed to start a charter alternative to public schools. A third of Newark’s pupils now attend charter schools.

According to researchers at Stanford, they have achieved gains equivalent to almost a full year of instruction in reading and mathematics compared to public schools. About 60% of Newark’s charter students are now proficient in English, compared to 35% in the traditional public schools.

Sen. Booker is now trying to run away from the biggest achievement to appease the Democratic primary voters.

Why not begin a school voucher system funded at two-thirds of public school expenditures? We could very well provide the school children of Texas with a superior education at a lower cost, even without an oil boom.

Julian Mardock is a native Texan and retired physician.

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