November 15, 2004
School funding poll

Are you a smoker who opposes a state income tax or an increased sales tax? One way or another, you're gonna get screwed.

More than three out of four Texans say the state should put more money into public schools and social services, according to a new poll.

Seventy-six percent said the state should provide more money for education, and 69 percent said they are very or somewhat confident that putting more money into schools will lead to improved student performance.

More money for social services such as children's health insurance and Child Protective Services was favored by 78 percent of respondents to The Scripps Howard Texas Poll.

Only 16 percent disagreed that schools need more state funding, and 15 percent didn't support additional money for social services. The rest said they didn't know.


Seventy-four percent of poll respondents favored raising the cigarette tax $1 per pack, compared with 25 percent who opposed. Seventy-two percent supported a $1 surcharge on tickets for concerts, professional sporting events and amusement parks.

On gambling issues, 72 percent favored legalizing state-taxed video lottery terminals at horse and dog tracks, an idea proposed by Gov. Rick Perry to raise money for schools. Perry also proposed the cigarette tax increase and ticket surcharge, but his plan was voted down.

Fifty-eight percent said they favor casino gambling.

There is less support for increasing and expanding the state sales tax. Only 44 percent said they favor increasing sales taxes to fund the state's schools, while 46 percent opposed, 7 percent said it depends and 3 percent didn't know.

Similar results were found for an income tax, even if it reduced property taxes and was used for schools. Forty-four percent wanted an income tax, 49 percent didn't and 7 percent didn't know.

I think the will is there to get serious about school finance reform, and about appropriate funding levels for programs like CHIP. A state rep from The Woodlands - The Woodlands! - has introduced a bill to increase school funding via an increased sales tax and a broadened franchise tax. State Sen. Kip Averitt has a bill to restore those 150,000 kids who were cut off from CHIP. These bills may get defeated, but I don't think they'llbe summarily brushed aside as they would have been in 2003, and if they are, any Democratic Party worth a pitcher of warm spit will trumpet the message that they and only they care about funding the programs that Texans care about. I do not believe that Rick Perry will be able to control the 79th Lege as he did the 78th, and I believe he will pay a price for it.

Want more evidence? Look at what the people say are the top issues for this session:

The poll also found a split on whether people found their local property taxes to be fair or unfair. Fifty-four percent said the taxes are fair and 43 percent said they are unfair, with 3 percent saying they don't know.

Texans were asked to name the main issue they want the Legislature to address in the upcoming session. Twenty-four percent said education, 13 percent said school finance and 13 percent cited health care. Eight percent said the focus should be on the economy and jobs, 6 percent said lowering property taxes, 4 percent said immigration, 2 percent said homeowners insurance, 1 percent said the state budget, 1 percent said teacher pay and 1 percent didn't know.

Fifty percent cited education or health care. Six percent mentioned taxes. A majority say their property taxes are fair. What will Rick Perry's priorities be this spring?

How's Perry doing, by the way?

Respondents gave mixed ratings to the governor's job performance. Forty-six percent rated Perry as excellent or good, up from 37 percent who gave him those ratings in the spring. But 49 percent said his performance is fair or poor, and 5 percent didn't know.

That negative number is also up from the last poll, though not as much. Perry can still be a hero if he finds a way to give the people what they want without pissing off his right-wing base. I could be wrong, but I don't think he's up to the task.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 15, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

The 76% who think schools need more funding should check out this site. In particular, look at column 9 and column 10 in this table, and remember that these are *per pupil* in *constant* dollars:

Educational Spending in Public Schools, per student

Source: U.S. Department of Education, "Digest of Education Statistics, 2002."

One can argue that the money isn't getting to the right places. But I think this table is abundant evidence that it's time to retire "more money" as the knee-jerk auto-response to what's wrong with our schools.

Posted by: Tim on November 16, 2004 9:41 AM

I don't know that I agree with that conclusion. What is the "right" amount to spend per student? Just because we've been spending more doesn't mean we've been spending enough. And I'm willing to bet that those per-capita numbers include a lot of things - like, say, security - which weren't a factor in years past and which don't have a direct impact on actual classroom learning.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 16, 2004 10:32 AM

Well, let me go back to the year I entered the educational system (1970-71) and compare it to today.

In 2002 dollars, we spent an average of $3,778 per student that year. By 2001-2002, that was essentially doubled to an estimated $7,524.

Do we really think that legitimate, well-spent non-educational functions drive up costs that much?

And do we really think schools are as good now as they were in 1970? If more money is the answer, schools should be far superior today than in 1950, 1960, 1970...

Money is a secondary, perhaps tertiary, problem here. Lack of accountability for how money is spent is bigger. (We hold schools accountable for student performance; why not how money is spent?) Parents who don't get involved in their children's education are another is the flight to private schools for parents who are more inclined to insist on solid student performance, leaving a selection bias among public school students. They underperform, and the knee jerk response is "more money." It's time this myth gets busted, and I'll continue to trot this chart out everywhere I see the fallacy of school poverty claimed.

And what of the 7% in this survey who think we should give more money to schools but presumably don't think it will improve student performance? Do they enjoy spending tax money just for the hell of it?

Posted by: Tim on November 16, 2004 10:41 AM

Nice stats, Tim.

Don't say much of anything specific to Texas, though. The chart provides nationwide averages for per-pupil spending.

Do all schools in Texas perform equally well? I'm pretty sure they don't. They certainly are not all funded equally well.

If your basic point is that school performance depends on many factors, of which finance is only one (albeit an important one), then welcome to the world of nuance!

The important question is: do we fund all schools sufficiently so that they can do the job we want them to do, and do it well? If the answer is no, then we need to re-do school finance, which will almost certainly entail more money.

then we will need to decide where and how to get the money, as well as how to spend it wisely.

Posted by: Locutor on November 17, 2004 10:35 AM