Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Student boom is busting Texas taxpayers

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.

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