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Stagnant state funding leaves Texas public schools reeling 

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Roz Brown

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(Texas News Service) Texas public schools rank 41st in per-student funding, and that may not improve anytime soon. 

A large education funding package failed in the legislature last year, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said he won't get onboard unless lawmakers also agree to voucher programs that can be used to subsidize students' private education. 

As a result, Eli Melendrez - government relations associate with the American Federation of Teachers in Texas - said public school district improvements and teacher pay raises fell by the wayside. 

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"You can see it on the ground, you can see it as a teacher looking at your paycheck, you can see as a parent of a student in the public school system," said Melendrez, "that funding is not adequate."

The state provides school districts with a base level of funding that is just over $6,000 annually per student - a funding level that hasn't increased since 2019. 

A recent study across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. found Texas public schools are extremely underfunded - with over 91% of students attending inadequately funded schools during the 2020-2021 school year.

In last year's legislative sessions - one regular and four special - public school superintendents, teachers, and parents listened for hours as Texas lawmakers debated the voucher question - a push that eventually failed. 

Melendrez said stakeholders came to the Capitol in Austin from across the state to advocate for better working conditions, adequate pay and general respect for educators. Many went home feeling unheard. 

"We've got people up here in Austin that come in, but we've also got people coming from Amarillo and Abilene and Beaumont and Houston and the Valley," said Melendrez, "just across the state telling them what the schools need - I mean it's very frustrating."

School vouchers would use public money to pay for children's private schooling, which public schools oppose. 

When lawmakers didn't pass the program during the regular legislative session last spring, Gov. Abbott, who has championed vouchers, called them back to the Capitol for multiple sessions but couldn't persuade Democrats or some rural Republicans.