East Texas school leaders sound alarm when it comes to state funding

Superintendents say factors include inflation, teacher shortage, and drop in attendance
East Texas school leaders sound alarm when it comes to state funding
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 6:47 PM CDT|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 7:11 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Public school superintendents from across East Texas are sounding the alarm when it comes to state funding. With about a month left in the regular legislative session, a group of school leaders gathered Monday morning to deliver an urgent message to state lawmakers: they need more funding.

“If something doesn’t change, we won’t be able to afford to maintain the quality education we have,” said Dr. Brandon Enos, Cushing ISD superintendent.

From Cushing to Carthage and Pine Tree to Lindale, no matter the size of the district, superintendents said the issues faced are the same, including inflation.

“Every time things get more expensive, we have to find a way to cut money in order to cover that,” said Steve Clugston, Pine Tree ISD superintendent. “Well, there’s also a teacher shortage, so we’ve got to figure out how we pay our teachers more so they can survive and do their job.”

Clugston said a drop in attendance is also hurting his district. He explained while the school district must staff their campuses for enrollment, the state only pays them for the students who show up.

“Since the pandemic, our attendance has gone down across the state. I’m seeing the worst attendance rates across the state of Texas that I’ve seen in my 32-year career. And so, every percentage point for us is about $300,000 to $350,000,” Clugston said.

And while Texas homeowners are feeling the pain of high property appraisal values, Clugston and other superintendents say that doesn’t necessarily mean more money for schools.

“When we collect more taxes locally, like a new house, or values go up on your house, like most people’s did across the state, when we get more local tax dollars, we don’t get extra funding. The state just sends us less,” said Stan Surratt, Lindale ISD superintendent.

With a month left in the regular legislative session, school leaders are asking lawmakers to make use of the state’s record $32.7 billion surplus.

Last week, the Texas House voted to advance a bill that would increase the amount allotted to districts per students for the first time since 2019. The bill calls for a $90 increase per student next year, and then a $50 jump the next year. East Texas school leaders worry it’s not enough.

HB100 recently passed the Texas House and now heads to the Texas Senate.
HB100 recently passed the Texas House and now heads to the Texas Senate.(KLTV)

“There’s some good things that are coming out of House Bill 100,” said Dr. Marty Crawford, Tyler ISD superintendent. “There has been an increase in the basic allotment, but we’re just wondering if that’s going to be enough to make sure that we have an attractive workforce as far as recruiting teachers and bus drivers and custodial staff, and to make sure that our buildings are taken care of for our students.”

Surratt sees a lot of room for improvement.

“It’s really embarrassing that they’re only talking about $90 per student,” he said.

Monday’s news conference was part of a statewide effort to gain media attention when it comes to public school funding.