When it comes to educational quality and student success, money does more than just talk. It screams. And I don’t mean just the money spent on education, although that is critical. I also mean the family financial resources available to students.
These facts were emphasized –once again – in an article published this week on 24/7 Wall St., an online site that publishes financial news and opinions on a number of issues, including education. This particular article rated what the author, Mike Sauter, considered the best school district in each of the 50 states, based on school funding, graduation rates, students enrolled in AP classes, student-teacher ratios and various socioeconomic factors, such as student poverty and the education levels of adults living in the district.
The article concluded that the best school district in Texas was Eanes ISD in Austin. With about 8,000 students, Eanes is one of the smaller urban school districts in Texas. It also is one of the wealthiest and whitest.
Some 56 percent of Eanes households make more than $100,000 a year. One-third make more than $200,000. An estimated 86 percent of its students are white. Eanes also has one of the highest graduation rates in the state and one of the highest levels of adult residents with college degrees. That means most Eanes students are from families with comfortable (or better) financial resources and an environment that nurtures educational attainment.
But Eanes ISD doesn’t represent the future of Texas. It doesn’t even represent the present.
Most students in Texas public schools (about 60 percent overall) come from poor families, and most (52 percent) are Hispanic. White, non-Hispanic students accounted for only 28 percent of Texas’ public school enrollment in 2016-17, the most recent data available. Almost 13 percent were African American. The percentage of Hispanic students, in particular, will continue to increase in Texas, as the percentage of Anglo students declines.
Hispanic and African American families have a higher poverty rate than Anglo families, and that poverty makes a significant difference in educational success. Most Eanes families have a legacy of educational attainment, and most Eanes parents can afford the luxury of tutors or whatever it takes to improve the educational outcomes for their children.
Meanwhile, many poverty stricken Hispanic and African American parents in Houston ISD, Dallas ISD, Austin ISD and hundreds of other Texas school districts are too busy holding down two or three jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table and don’t have the money for tutors or the time or educational background for something as simple as helping their children with homework. Many of their children also are having to take jobs that interfere with their school work and put them at risk of dropping out. Inadequate health care also is an issue that affects their educational progress.
Almost one-fifth (19 percent) of Texas students are English language learners, immigrants or the offspring of immigrants, who are going to continue to come to Texas in search of economic opportunity despite all the presidential blathering about a border wall. And how well they are educated will be essential to Texas’ future.
Low-income students and English language learners generally cost more to educate than affluent students, and many of them are in districts that are much poorer than Eanes, districts that don’t have Eanes’ property tax base to help compensate for the inadequate funding they receive from state government.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies, who persist in short-changing Texas’ school children, love Eanes and other property wealthy districts that continue to take up part of the slack for their own neglect. And then they pretend to cry over high property taxes.
I suspect that even the well-heeled taxpayers in Eanes are getting tired of that charade.