© December, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Report of the e-Texas Commission

e-Texas Chapter 7 | ...in 2010 | Endnotes

The Educated Citizen
in the Knowledge Economy

There are only 58 openings in pro basketball, but there are 346,600 in technology,” noted Randy Corbin, account manager for Cisco Systems, at an e-Texas education public hearing. Clearly, Texas must equip its students with the skills and knowledge they need to build meaningful careers in the Internet Age. Texas has moved from an economy based largely on natural resources and agriculture to one centered on complex information systems, and our educational system must acknowledge this leap. We cannot rest until all of our citizens are prepared to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Texas is making progress toward this end and has emerged as a national leader in the areas of educational innovation, reform, and accountability. Student scores on the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests have increased steadily over the past five years.[1] Results from the state’s accountability system indicate that Texas students from all backgrounds are achieving greater academic success.[2] A more equitable school finance system; better teacher pay and a better environment for teachers; broader access to preschool; and an accountability system tied to standards based on statewide essential curriculum elements all have contributed to improved student performance. Yet, despite these successes the state still faces a number of challenges—and opportunities.

To prepare Texans to compete and grow in an information-based economy, their educational journey must be made “seamless”—they should be able to continue their education or retool themselves for advancement at any time in their lives. Students should be able to make a fluid transition from high school to a four-year college, community college, technical school, or work. Our educational system must be flexible enough to meet the rapidly changing demands of an unpredictable market. We must begin to think of education as a process of lifelong learning, and our educational system must reflect that journey. Instead of a K-12 system divorced from higher education, we must build a seamless “K-16” education system so that all Texas students graduate from high school adequately prepared to continue their education.

To accomplish this task, any potential educational “reform” must build on the principles of freedom and accountability that have guided Texas’ educational policy over the last decade. Schools, colleges, and universities should be free to innovate, develop new and effective programs, and find ways to make the best use of scarce education dollars. In return for that freedom, taxpayers and parents should be able to hold our educational institutions accountable for results, ensuring that we get the most we can out of every dollar spent on education.

The entrepreneurial spirit that has energized the Texas economy can and must be unleashed in education to make sure that taxpayers receive the best educational services their tax dollars can buy.

The Texas Educational System

Texas has instituted a variety of educational innovations that require ongoing support and expansion. A 1998 study conducted for the National Education Goals Panel listed Texas and North Carolina as the two states that had achieved the most progress toward eight major educational goals established by the US Congress. According to the report, the keys to this progress have been statewide academic standards tied to tests; an accountability system with consequences for results; common standards for all students; flexibility for teachers and administrators; and the involvement of political and business leaders in implementing and sustaining the reforms.[3]

Effective accountability systems are taking root across the country, as other states follow Texas’ lead. Meanwhile, Texas is moving forward by adding new subject areas such as social studies and science to its TAAS exams required for graduation. This should help ensure that Texas high school graduates are better prepared to continue their education beyond high school.

The Texas Academic Accountability System
Texas’ efforts to improve academic performance have achieved wide recognition throughout the United States. The TAAS tests are designed to ensure that students meet minimum academic standards for their grade levels. The system holds schools accountable for educating all their children, as it reports scores by ethnicity and economic status. Texas students’ average scores have been rising on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a system of standardized tests given to samples of students in most states), and the gap between minority and Anglo students has narrowed.

Texas has provided national leadership for student achievement in reading through the Texas Reading Initiative and Governor Bush’s commitment that all students must learn to read at the appropriate grade level by the third grade and continue reading on grade level or above after that. This initiative employs proven methods to teach kids to read. In the future, Texas could emulate this program in other academic areas. For example, Governor Bush recently launched a math initiative similar to the state’s successful reading initiative.

Texas also has raised minimum teacher salaries and made it easier for professionals to enter the educational field through alternative certification programs. Furthermore, some Texas universities have created innovative programs to recruit and train students for the teaching profession. Such steps are critical if Texas is to meet the rising demand for high-quality teachers. Yet, even with such alternatives available, Texas is not producing enough teachers to meet demand. In 1998-99, Texas had 63,000 vacant teacher positions in its public schools, while only 21,900 men and women were issued teaching certificates during the previous year.[4]

The University of Texas’ College of Natural Sciences has spearheaded an innovative collaborative effort, UTeach, to increase the number of qualified math and science teachers it produces. Working with the university’s College of Education and local school districts, the College of Natural Sciences created UTeach to produce certified science and math teachers in a four-year degree plan, rather than the traditional five-year track. The program provides useful courses for students preparing to enter the classroom upon graduation. Toward this end, the program mixes regular natural science courses with courses led by seasoned “Master Teachers” from area public schools. The program also requires its participants to spend extensive time in school classes, observing and learning the craft of teaching.[5]

On another front, Texas has moved to give parents and students a wider variety of educational choices. In the 1999-2000 school year, about 10 percent of all Texas students attended a public school other than the neighborhood school in their attendance zone, including magnet schools, “open-enrollment” public schools, other public schools in their own districts, and schools in neighboring districts. The state also has introduced charter schools, free from some government rules and regulations, throughout the state which served about 28,950 students in 1999-2000.[6]

Texans have long enjoyed a broad choice of educational institutions beyond high school. And the number of available programs continues to grow, particularly in the state’s community colleges, which for many students provide a transition from high school to a four-year degree program or the workforce. The state must provide ongoing support for all of these alternatives without assuming an unnecessary and unwelcome regulatory role.

Challenges to Texas’ Educational System

Growing Enrollment

American public school enrollment is fast approaching the all-time high of 49 million, set by the swelling generation of baby boomers. Now the “Baby Boom Echo”—the children of America’s largest generation—is being felt. In 1998, 48 million students were enrolled in US public schools.[7] Texas is no different, with a burgeoning enrollment now in the neighborhood of four million.

Over the past decade, Texas public school enrollment has risen by 21 percent and is expected to reach 4.4 million in 2009.[8] Enrollment in our higher education institutions rose by nine percent over the last decade and is expected to continue growing in the future (see Figure 7-1).[9] This growth, however, is not uniform across the state. Many districts are growing much faster than the state average, while others have stagnant or declining enrollments. Community colleges are growing much more rapidly than four-year institutions. Such complex trends will put a premium on the ability of the educational system to meet changing personnel and facilities needs quickly and effectively.

Texas is home to an increasingly diverse multiethnic and multilingual student population, and the number of economically disadvantaged students continues to grow. Texas public schools reflect the state’s growing ethnic pluralism. More than 12 percent of the state’s students receive bilingual and English as a Second Language instruction.[10]

Texas has implemented policies to help meet some of the challenges presented by these demographic trends. For example, the state now ensures that schools are held accountable for providing an adequate education to all student groups. The state also has provided assistance to help districts meet the rising demand for classroom space through programs such as the Instructional Facilities Allotment.

Texas colleges and universities are establishing policies to recruit and retain students from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, and some have begun to work closely with the public educational system to better train and prepare teachers for the classroom.

Rapid Technological Change

US school systems were built to meet the needs of an industrialized society, but the school calendar largely still follows an even older agrarian schedule, leaving school buildings sitting empty for two or three months a year. Our schools still operate under a model quite similar to that of mass production, in which the “one best way” is assumed to work for most children. For decades, this was a perfectly adequate way to prepare students for the workforce. The industrial jobs that provided the bulk of employment for much of the 20th century required only a rudimentary education. Anyone who had completed high school, and many who had not, were prepared to step into jobs in mass production.

The Internet Age, however, will require a significantly different set of skills from its workers. For better or worse, many of the secure, steady jobs that employed millions of Americans in the 20th century are going the way of buffalo hunting and buggy-whip manufacture. The New Economy needs students who can acquire fairly sophisticated analytical and technical skills. As technology progresses, moreover, new skills—some unforeseen today—continually will come into demand. Like modern businesses, our educational system and our students must be nimble and flexible, able to respond quickly to changing demands.

Texas has benefited greatly from the technology boom of the last decade. Research from our universities has led to new products, services, and discoveries that have helped fuel this boom. Our public schools, community colleges, and universities have provided workers for these jobs. However, the skills required for many of these jobs go well beyond what most students receive with a basic high school education. It is imperative, therefore, that every Texas student who completes high school be prepared to continue learning and obtaining new skills, whether in a community college, technical school, university, or on the job. Those who are unprepared risk being left behind in the New Economy.

Technology Integration in College Station ISD
Dr. Jim Scales, superintendent for College Station ISD, recently told an e-Texas hearing how his district has integrated technology into all of its schools. Every school is wired for Internet connections, and each school has at least one teacher trained as a “technology facilitator.” These facilitators train other teachers at their schools and are able to handle technology problems as they arise.

In addition to improving instruction, experience with computers and information technology better prepares students for the workforce. “Technology is a platform to provide better educational opportunities to all students,” Dr. Scales said. “[Schools must] prepare kids to leave schools and be marketable. They can’t be marketable if they are not comfortable with technology.”[11]

Ending Educational Inequality

Minorities make up the fastest-growing segment of Texas’ population. Together Hispanics and African-Americans already account for more than half of the school-aged population. Furthermore, nearly half of all Texas students are considered economically disadvantaged.[12]

Texas’ ongoing demographic shift makes it absolutely essential to improve the academic achievement of all our students. Fortunately, the state has made great progress in this area. The 1996 and 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed some encouraging news: Texas African-American and Hispanic fourth- and eighth-grade students scored second-highest in the nation, compared to counterparts in 26 other states and the District of Columbia.[13] Texas also can take pride in the fact that its low-income students performed best among states whose students took NAEP exams.

Continued progress will be needed if all Texans are to share in the prosperity possible in the Internet Age. Texas is on a long journey toward improved academic achievement among all students. But the progress of the last decade must continue, and we must increase the number of students who aspire to and qualify for university-level work.

Abilene’s Region 14 Technology Program
Dillon Cobb, a Stamford High School senior, told Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander that he would have 24 college-level credits when he graduated this spring. Dillon, at school in Stamford, was linked to the Comptroller at the Region 14 Education Service Center in Abilene, 40 miles away via video-conferencing technology.

Comptroller Rylander was in Abilene to present her Point with Pride Award recognizing Region 14 and its 43 school districts for their innovative use of technology to deliver education. Rylander made the presentation to Dr. Terry Harlow, the regional education service center’s executive director.

“When I became Comptroller, I established 10 Principles for Texas in the New Century. The first three deal with education: develop a better-educated workforce, direct more of every education dollar into the classroom and raise the bar on student performance,” she said. “I can think of no better program to honor with the first Point with Pride Award than Region 14 and its school districts that are using technology to better their education services.”

Students and administrators in Stamford and Anson are linked to the Region 14 center via interactive video. All 50,400 students and 4,700 district staff members are licensed to use the Internet and interactive software that provides for distance learning as a part of $1.7 million grant from the Texas Education Agency.

Elizabeth Shokoui and Lauren Gilbert, both juniors at Anson High School, are taking college algebra through distance learning classes offered by Western Texas College in Snyder. As a result, they are receiving college credit for completing their high school math requirements.

Robert Damron, superintendent of Stamford ISD, and Stan Fogerson, superintendent of Abilene ISD, emphasized that the distance learning technology was a big boon for rural West Texas school districts, saying it was virtually impossible for their students to travel to the home campuses of the participating colleges to take classes.

“We must view education as a seamless system that goes from K through 16, and beyond,” Comptroller Rylander said. “We can’t boost the number and quality of college graduates until we ensure that elementary and secondary schools can produce students who are ready to do college work.”

Region 14 covers school districts in Callahan, Comanche, Eastland, Fisher, Haskell, Jones, Mitchell, Nolan, Scurry, Shackelford, Stephens, Stonewall, and Taylor counties.

Strategies for Developing a Better Educated Citizenry

While Texas has made great gains in student performance over the last decade, it is imperative that we continue to strive for further improvements among all students, from the struggling ones to the top performers. As we continue to demand more from our students, we should ensure that they have qualified, well-trained teachers who can help them achieve their full potential.

Strategies in Brief

• Aggressively Address Texas’ Teacher Shortage
• Unleash the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Texas Education
• Use Technology and Public-Private Partnerships to Cope with the Pressures of Growing Enrollment
• Direct More of Every Education Dollar into the Classroom
• Create a World Class K-16 Education System that Prepares all Texans to Achieve Academic Excellence
Texas must ensure that its high school graduates are ready to enter college or the modern workforce. The state’s transition to a technology-based, high-skills economy requires us to raise the bar on student performance and close gaps in achievement. We believe the following strategies and recommendations will help us reach these goals.

Aggressively Address Texas’ Teacher Shortage

As it strives to serve a changing and rapidly growing student population, Texas, like many other states, faces critical teacher shortages. Many districts find it difficult to fill available teaching slots, particularly in high-demand subject areas like math, science, bilingual education, and special education. E-Texas Education Task Force member Gayle Fallon notes that some urban districts are finding it hard to fill teaching slots in all areas; Houston ISD, for example, had 750 vacant teaching positions throughout the 1999-2000 school year.[14] Qualified teachers are crucial to preparing students for education beyond high school. The availability of adequately trained teachers in Texas public schools is, and is likely to remain, a serious concern for district administrators and university officials.[15]

Teacher shortages are not universal. For example, there seems to be no statewide problem in filling elementary teaching positions. The shortages are concentrated in higher grades, specific fields and some urban areas. While some districts use stipends or signing bonuses to attract teachers in some subject areas, most Texas districts still have uniform pay scales tied to the state’s minimum salary schedule, which is based on experience. Districts are free to institute different pay scales, but few choose to do so.


Attract quality teachers to the classroom with pay for performance.

Texas universities have a great deal of freedom in determining faculty salaries and offer pay that can attract some of the best qualified candidates from anywhere in the world. Texas public schools largely still follow the state’s minimum pay scale, and in many cases, do not offer market rates for the best teachers. A greater share of educational spending should be devoted to instructional costs, so that schools can reward effective teachers and offer salaries and amenities that will lure qualified professionals into the classroom and keep them there. Teachers also should be rewarded for improving the performance of their students.


Improve the formula used to distribute Permanent School Fund Revenue.

Modernizing Permanent School Fund distributions by, for example, adopting a total returns concept similar to that currently used for managing the Permanent University Fund, could make more money available to the Available School Fund (ASF). The additional revenue for the ASF would, in turn, reduce the amount of General Revenue money needed to fund the state’s public schools. The increased revenue could be applied toward helping school districts establish benefit packages for teachers.

Unleash the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Texas Education

One major trend in modern education is toward greater freedom to innovate, increased accountability for results, and increased competition—trends that mirror the entrepreneurial impulses that have made America’s economy the strongest in the world. Many states, including Texas, are giving parents and students greater choice at every step in the educational journey, with an increasing number of charter schools, expanded community college offerings, and improved access overall to higher education.

The National Commission on Governing America’s Schools recently issued a report describing these trends and providing guidelines for the reform of school governance and management.[16] The commission developed two recommended approaches for this effort, both emphasizing the devolution of administrative control to individual schools and their principals.

The first approach leads from “the traditional, one-size-fits-all school system” to a more dynamic, diversified and high-performing system of schools, in which school districts continue to “fund, authorize, operate and oversee schools” that nevertheless function with a great deal of day-to-day independence, with some campuses granted even greater independence as charter schools. The second approach goes further, leading to a system in which school districts “fund, authorize and oversee the performance of schools, but do not directly operate them. Instead, districts contract with independent entities...to run schools much the same way they currently do charter schools.”[17]

The second approach is entirely consistent with broad trends in other areas of government as well as the private sector. Most large companies now contract for many activities and a number of agencies at all levels of government are taking similar steps. These actions have led to improvements in productivity and quality, and the commission’s recommendations recognize the important gains to be made by transferring the productivity revolution to our schools.

Competition and constant innovation have transformed the Texas economy. This vibrancy can and must be harnessed to improve educational opportunities. Texas government should provide support for the state’s transition to a high-skills, high-wages economy without slowing its progress with unnecessary and burdensome regulations. The guiding principles behind education reform at all levels should be freedom and accountability.


Strengthen the state’s system of charter schools.

Restrictions in Texas’ open-enrollment charter statute discourage the creation of these schools and the realization of their full potential. For example, only the State Board of Education (SBOE) can grant open-enrollment charters. In some other states, multiple institutions such as universities are authorized to grant charters. Texas, moreover, has strict limitations on the number of open-enrollment charters that can be granted, thereby limiting the ability of charter schools to offer real choice to all students. Weaknesses in charter school logistical support, the chartering process, and management also limit the schools’ effectiveness. The state should allow institutions other than the SBOE, such as universities, to grant charters; enhance the charter application and approval process; and provide for improved management and governance of charter schools.


Examine the relationship between the state and Texas institutions of higher education.

Colleges and universities are, by their very nature, market-driven institutions. Unlike public schools, they have no captive audience, and to some extent must compete for students’ tuition dollars. Texas, therefore, should emphasize market approaches to public higher education. A number of states give universities greater freedom over a wide range of issues, including tuition rates and course offerings. As with public schools, such freedom is often accompanied by a responsibility for real-world results. The state’s emphasis should be on providing our institutions with more freedom in exchange for greater accountability for results.

For instance, while Texas’ colleges and universities have considerably more freedom than other state agencies, they are not entirely free from burdensome state regulations. Institutions must charge uniform tuition rates for undergraduates, within minimum and maximum amounts set by the Legislature. University purchasing, moreover, often is subject to the same rules as those imposed on other state agencies.

This level of state control may hinder our colleges’ ability to meet changing demands for higher education. If public colleges and universities are not responsive to the public they serve, students will choose to attend other schools. For this reason, colleges and universities should be given as much flexibility as possible to manage their own affairs, while still remaining accountable for state tax dollars.

Use Technology and Public-Private Partnerships to Cope with the Pressures of Growing Enrollment

Traditionally, Texas has responded to enrollment growth in its public schools, colleges, and universities by expanding its existing institutions and building new ones. The Permanent School Fund is used to back bonds issued by school districts for construction and renovation of facilities, while the Instructional Facilities Allotment provides $100 million annually to help school districts with facilities needs. Two constitutional funds, the Permanent University Fund and the Higher Education Fund, provide a steady source of money for Texas’ enormous, ongoing investment in higher education facilities.

The makeup and needs of Texas’ student population, however, are gradually changing. For example, the “typical” college student of today does not necessarily fit the traditional image of a young man or woman living on campus and attending classes full-time. Instead, as Dr. Elizabeth Tebeaux noted at an e-Texas education hearing, 41 percent of all US undergraduate students are 24 years or older; 40 percent attend school part-time; 80 percent commute to college; and 89 percent work while going to school (see Figure 7-2).[18] Universities and colleges must adapt to these patterns by developing new means of educating students within the constraints of their increasingly hectic schedules.

Public-private partnerships in public school facilities construction and ownership have the potential to offer innovative and cost-effective methods to meet the demands of a growing school-age population. Such partnerships can provide school districts the flexibility to quickly adjust, for example, to changing demographic trends and technological developments.

The Internet and “distance learning” (typically via closed-circuit television) can reach students beyond the boundaries of a traditional public school, college or university campus, allowing them to take courses at a time and place most convenient to them. The rapid growth of the privately-run University of Phoenix, an accredited institution now providing many courses through the Internet to students throughout the US, is a powerful indicator of just how attractive online education has become. The Virtual College of Texas, a consortium of Texas community and technical colleges, offers online access to 39 courses from 21 institutions. The state’s traditional public universities now offer courses and degree programs online as well, and these offerings can be expected to increase in the future.


Provide the state core curriculum through the Internet and distance education.

“Virtual” schools and courses can play an important role in improving Texans’ access to education. As such technology becomes commonplace, more working adults will be drawn to virtual colleges to update their skills throughout their careers, while public school students will have a wider variety of choices for earning their diplomas.

Online learning opportunities can provide access to college courses at a time and place that is convenient for the student, without the massive new investment needed to build new campuses. Texas must become a leader in harnessing the potential of this delivery system.

Texas should create the capacity for state colleges and universities to offer online courses and programs, building and expanding on existing online and distance-learning programs at state colleges and universities. This should provide every Texan with access to high-quality, college-level courses that are widely transferable to public colleges and universities in Texas. As a first step in the development of this virtual university, the state’s entire core curriculum should be available online to college students. Traditional college students would no longer be forced to postpone taking a core course because the class is full or unavailable.


Pursue alternatives to traditional school facilities construction.

Earning high school credits through distance learning may provide more instructional time for at-risk and other populations while alleviating crowding in school facilities.

Meeting Facility Needs Through Public-Private Partnerships
Public-private partnerships are arrangements in which government agencies collaborate with private companies to provide goods or services. A number of innovative partnerships have been developed in the US and other countries to meet the growing demand for costly school facilities.

Nova Scotia’s P3 Program: To meet school construction costs despite a declining economy, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia developed an innovative and successful public-private partnership strategy known as the “P3” program. Under P3, private companies build and own school buildings and lease them to the school system, which provides staff and students. Typically, the district enters into a 20-year lease worth 85 percent of the capitalized cost of construction. In return, the owner is allowed to lease the building to other entities outside of school hours, as specified in the lease contract.[19] This allows the company to earn additional money from building usage on evenings, weekends, and during school vacations, making a profit possible despite the discounted cost to the district. The owners of the building, moreover, have incentives to keep the facility in good condition to attract other users. The fact that the school district’s lease expires after 20 years provides a further incentive for careful maintenance; once the lease expires, the company must find a way to make use of the building. If the school system has been well-served by the initial lease agreement and the facilities themselves remain in excellent condition, the district will be more likely to renew the contract.

Pembroke Pines Charter School: Florida’s Pembroke Pines Charter School was financed by a school district through a conventional bond issue.

However, the school was built by Haskell Educational Services (HES), a subsidiary of Haskell Companies, a firm specializing in the construction of assisted-living facilities. The district now leases the completed facility to HES, which operates a charter school on the premises. HES achieved significant savings in the school’s design and construction, with a total cost that was 15 to 22 percent lower than costs for similar schools in the area. The school district pays HES $3,750 per student each year, less than the amount needed to cover lease payments and school operating costs. HES generates extra revenues by offering other fee-based educational services in the facility outside of school hours. Given the low, fixed amount of money per pupil HES receives, the company had significant incentives to realize savings in construction and design, which they were able to do with great effect.[20]

An arrangement like the Pembroke Pines example might allow Texas charter schools to overcome the difficulties they face in raising capital and finding adequate facilities. It also might help school districts meet the needs of growing populations while holding down construction costs. Such partnerships, however, require the active participation of public school districts, which are authorized to issue tax-free bonds.

Worksite Schools
At the April 26, 2000 meeting of the e-Texas Commission, Mary Anne Ward, president of Schools at Work, made a presentation about worksite schools. Ward described how many corporations have begun building public schools for their employees’ children. The benefits to corporations include employee recruitment and retention, higher morale, lower absenteeism, and the ability to help their local communities. School districts enjoy reduced overcrowding, savings, and improved test scores. Students benefit from higher academic standards, increased parental involvement, and a greater level of racial and socioeconomic diversity.

Worksite schools can introduce innovative practices into education while lowering some costs, such as those associated with facilities construction. In some states, the business and educational communities have collaborated to create worksite schools. These states allow companies to create and maintain school facilities and give admission preference to the children of their employees. In Florida, individual businesses can establish educational facilities for the employees’ children; the school district then provides the curriculum and teachers. In Des Moines, Iowa, 19 downtown businesses formed a consortium to create a worksite school to serve the children of all their employees.[21] Such efforts save tax money and allow a greater share of that money to go toward instruction, since the sponsoring company or companies finance the facilities.


Encourage the establishment of worksite schools.

While virtual education can play some role in reducing the demand for increased classroom space, no one predicts the demise of the traditional college or public school campus. Texas still will have to build more classrooms to meet the demands of increasing enrollment. Worksite schools, in which businesses provide school facilities and public school districts or charter school management companies provide teachers, curricula, and administrators, can help both public and charter schools meet their facilities needs without spending scarce funds on buildings. By amending state law and assisting businesses with feasibility assessments, Texas could encourage this type of partnership.

Direct More of Every Education Dollar into the Classroom

An increasing share of educational spending has gone toward administration, smaller class size and special education needs. Teachers now make up only 51 percent of all Texas school district staff (see Figure 7-3).[22] In European countries, by contrast, teachers account for 60 to 80 percent of all educational staffing.[23] Real (inflation-adjusted) per-student spending on Texas public education rose by 87 percent from 1977 to 1997, from $1,977 to $3,698 in constant 1982-84 dollars. During the nine-year period from 1988 to 1997, when real per-student spending increased by 17.5 percent, real average teacher pay in the state actually fell by 0.05 percent.[24] Therefore, Texas must train, recruit, and retain high-quality teachers in all subject areas and channel more of every educational dollar into instruction. This will require us to reassess the way we structure our educational programs. Fortunately, Texans have the will and the resources to accomplish this goal.

When only 51 percent of school district employees statewide are classified as teachers—despite significant recent spending increases in education—meeting the educational needs of a diverse and growing student population can become a difficult task. When schools find it impossible to pay math and science teachers competitive salaries, for instance, their chances of attracting excellent candidates are slim at best. Private companies have generated huge productivity increases in recent years and our schools and universities must do the same to meet our students’ needs. We carefully must assess how each education dollar is being spent and dedicate ourselves to ensuring that it is spent in a way that will maximize the performance of Texas students.

The stated mission of school districts is educating children. But as the biggest business and largest employer in many towns, districts are often overtly or covertly pressured to create jobs and prop up the local economy. For example, during a school district management review conducted by the Texas School Performance Review (TSPR), a local banker argued that investing the district’s excess funds in higher yielding investments outside of the local bank would prevent economic expansion. In a district where teachers are paid less than market wages and turnover is high, the additional interest earnings could and should be directed into the classroom.

Reforms to hold school districts, schools, principals and teachers accountable for student performance have not extended to the support side of the districts. Consistently TSPR has found that custodians, food service workers, and bus drivers are not hired based upon industry staffing standards, nor are good management practices used to ensure their productivity. Instead, efforts are made to justify overstaffing and protecting the status quo. In many districts, for example, custodians work during the day when students and staff are in the building. Campus staff argue that facilities are dirty, therefore they need more custodians. In truth, having a limited staff on duty during the day, and bringing in smaller crews to work at night when the facilities are vacant could improve the cleanliness of the schools and allow the district to reduce custodial staffing levels.

To address concerns that school administration was becoming too costly, the 1991 Legislature imposed a mechanism called “administrative cost ratios” that compares administrative costs to instructional costs by means of a ratio of the two cost categories. For each school district, administrative costs are divided by instructional costs to calculate the administrative cost ratio for that district. However, these numbers can be deceiving as districts have some latitude to decide, for example, who should be classified as a teacher.

In the San Antonio ISD, for instance, the $3,000 per year teacher salary increase mandated by the 1999 Legislature had an interesting, if unintended, consequence. According to district officials, 172 individuals previously coded as teachers and paid on the teacher pay scales were reclassified to more accurately reflect the fact that they were not teachers—thus avoiding the need to grant them the $3,000 pay raise out of local funds.


Improve accountability for educational spending.

In Texas, local decision-makers are mainly responsible for the balance of classroom versus non-classroom spending. Taxpayers and parents should, therefore, be accurately and usefully informed as to what proportion of their education dollars are being devoted to instruction. The administrative cost ratio presently used to limit the proportion of education dollars spent on administration misleads the informed voter. Administrative costs do not include salaries of principals, although principals are clearly administrators. Instructional costs, on the other hand, are defined to include counseling expenditures—although counselors do not usually teach or have regular instructional contact with children in the classroom, and counselors often do perform many administrative duties such as course scheduling. Instructional costs also include expenses incurred for staff development, curriculum development, paid sabbatical leaves for instructional staff, and other expenses not directly related to classroom instruction.[25] The administrative cost ratio should be replaced by a more understandable, unambiguous statistic that empowers taxpayers to hold local school officials truly accountable for the share of taxpayer resources that goes directly to classroom instruction. By informing taxpayers in a straightforward manner, they can make sure resources flow where they want them to flow—into the classroom.

Create a World Class K-16 Education System that Prepares all Texans to Achieve Academic Excellence

Much remains to be done to give all Texans an opportunity for equal access to higher education. This is evident in recent estimates of the number of students who would be enrolled in Texas colleges and universities if participation rates for the state’s ethnic and racial minorities were equalized over the next 15 years. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) “parity” forecast for 2015 shows that 183,000 more students would be enrolled in the state’s public universities, over and above a forecasted growth of 57,000 new students. Community colleges would have 75,000 more students than indicated by current forecasts. Texas should strive to ensure that all students have the opportunity to continue their education beyond high school.[26]

Public and higher education must work together to meet the challenges of the Internet Age. Universities must improve education degree programs and training offerings for current teachers. Collaboration will benefit both sectors of education. Gifted and talented students will benefit from earlier exposure to college courses, while at-risk students are more likely to succeed when taught by thoroughly trained and prepared teachers.

Such cooperation is imperative if Texas is to continue to reap the economic rewards of the new century. Universities must be free to continue conducting the research that produces innovations and discoveries that help make all of us healthier and more prosperous. To do so, however, they must have students who are prepared for college-level work. It is in the best interest of our institutions of higher education to do all they can to ensure that every child in Texas receives a high-quality basic education.


Ensure the quality of community colleges’ dual-credit offerings.

Dual-credit programs are arranged between high schools and colleges to provide exceptionally qualified high school students with opportunities to take college course work. To ensure the quality of college-level courses, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) provides guidelines for community colleges to follow, including student eligibility for enrollment, faculty qualifications, selection of courses, and grading criteria. The colleges receive state funding for these courses. In the face of declining enrollments over recent years, some community colleges have started offering classes that do not meet THECB’s criteria. State law should require the THECB to audit the dual-credit course offerings of community colleges to ensure that they comply with THECB guidelines.

Collaboration between Blinn College and Brenham ISD
In February 2000, an e-Texas hearing in College Station highlighted several educational innovations and opportunities, including a program that allows Blinn College faculty to teach online courses to high school juniors in Brenham. The program was created out of necessity—the district lost its social studies teachers and could not find last-minute replacements. “The online courses really saved our necks,” said Brenham ISD director of technology Mike Habermehl. “We had run out of options. Fortunately, Blinn conducts dual-credit courses with the district, so they were able to offer two online classes for about 50 students.” One Brenham ISD teacher serves as a counselor for the classes; Blinn faculty make class assignments.[27]


Restructure the Texas Tomorrow Fund to offer a savings plan in addition to prepaid tuition.

Paying for college is a concern for just about any family. Texas was one of the first states to establish a prepaid tuition program, the Texas Tomorrow Fund (TTF). The TTF allows parents, grandparents or others to purchase a future college education for a child at today’s prices. This program has been a great success, selling nearly 100,000 contracts since its inception in 1996. Since that time, however, federal tax laws have changed, allowing states to establish a wider range of tax-deferred college savings vehicles. The TTF should be expanded to offer more options for college savings and enable even more students to afford college.


Provide guidelines for after-school and summer programs intended to help students at risk of academic failure.

After-school programs are another means of providing educational opportunity. In Texas, federal, state, and local funds are used to establish after-school and summer programs for students at risk of academic failure and dropping out of school. However, no consistent guidelines or quality evaluation instruments are in place to ensure that these dollars are achieving the expected results. State-level leadership is needed to provide statewide guidelines and quality evaluation instruments for these programs.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

Privacy Policy