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How School Choice can ease crowding and debt in Texas


• ExcelinEd

K-12 student enrollment is booming across the nation, and Texas is no exception.

full classThe growth of the student population in the Lone Star State doesn’t look like it is going to slow down any time soon. Leaders know they have a growing problem (e.g. limited dollars and space) and are looking for a plan. Somehow education must become more academically effective and cost effective.

ExcelinEd’s Dr. Matthew Ladner offered a solution to the impending crisis in his recent report Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education. He even provided expert testimony to the Texas Senate Education Committee on the topic this spring.

Last week, Watchdog.org published an article on the topic, including insights from Dr. Ladner. Read the complete piece below or at Watchdog.org.

Student boom is busting Texas taxpayers
Watchdog.org
By: Kenric Ward

As Texas classrooms bulge with nearly 100,000 more students each year, school-choice advocates say the state needs a private option to ease crowding and deflate ballooning debt.

“The reality is that Texas has been facing an onslaught of enrollment growth, and the growth is accelerating,” says Matthew Ladner, senior adviser on policy and research at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The 2010 Census showed 6.7 million Texans under 18. That figure is now closing in on 9 million.

The youth boom is busting school district budgets and taxpayers.

In 2000-01, school construction projects amounted to just 1.9 percent of district debt.

Ten years later, capital outlays climbed to 11 percent of debt. With pay-as-you-go programs no longer financially viable, debt service expenses soared from 5.8 percent of budget to 9.8 percent.

On a steady upward swing, school district spending now makes up more than half of Texans’ local property tax bills.

“Policymakers should be looking for pressure relief valves for explosive enrollment growth other than going deeply into debt to build new facilities and then surrounding those new facilities with portable buildings,” Ladner told Watchdog.org.

In 2010, Round Rock Independent School District built Cedar Ridge High School for $85 million. Designed for 2,500 students, the new campus was surrounded by dozens of portable classrooms.

On opening day, the overflow crowd of students put up a sign reading, “Welcome to Portableville.”

The Texas Education Agency reported that 120 schools were under construction around the state as of October 2014, the latest figures available. The collective bond debt for capital construction was pegged at $8.44 billion, and rising.

Erica Grieder — author of “Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn from Texas” – notes the Lone Star State is younger than the United States. Texans under 18 constitute 27.1 percent of the population, versus 23.7 percent nationally. Said Ladner:

“I think it’s time for us to start asking some very tough questions about where in the world are we going to put the 2 million students who are on the way.”

This year, the state Senate approved a school-choice bill that would have funded scholarships for low-income and at-risk students to attend private schools. The narrowly targeted bill never got a hearing in the House.

Six states passed seven school-choice bills during the last legislative cycle, making more than 750,000 new students eligible for voucher-style programs. Proponents say Texas should follow suit – for academic and financial reasons.

“The percentage of our total public school funding that is actually making it into the classroom is going down because we’re having to keep building more and more buildings to accommodate enrollment growth,” Ladner noted.

“Lawmakers could pass a universal voucher program,” he suggested. “Public schools have had difficulty keeping up, and for as far as the eye of the Census Bureau can see, this (enrollment growth) is going to continue.”


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