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Window on State Government - Susan Combs Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

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December 8, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to present to you my landmark study that will help identify strategies for containing the costs associated with public education without compromising academic progress. In this period of tight budget constraints, the Financial Allocation Study for Texas, or FAST, is a timely tool to help school districts identify ways to operate more efficiently without sacrificing student academic performance.

We made every effort to compare school districts and campuses on a level playing field – a difficult task, given Texas’ great size and diversity. We consulted with public education stakeholders throughout the state, and we worked with nationally recognized experts in the field of school finance and student achievement. FAST assesses districts and campuses based on the academic progress of their students after adjusting for factors outside a district’s control that affect student performance.

When comparing district and campus spending, the FAST report groups districts and campuses into sets of “fiscal peers” – up to 40 districts or campuses that operate in similar cost environments, based on factors that affect the cost of providing education, such as regional wages, district size and student characteristics. Once a set of fiscal peers is established, each district and campus is placed into one of five “spending index” categories, from “very low” to “very high.” Academic progress scores are then matched with the spending index to create an overall FAST rating, ranging from one to five stars. This is not a top-to-bottom ranking of all 1,000-plus districts, because we do not think that is useful or accurate.

Texas public education spending nearly doubled during the last decade, increasing from $28 billion to nearly $55 billion since the 1998-99 school year. Even after taking enrollment growth into account, spending per-pupil rose by 63 percent.

We believe our new Web reporting feature provides a powerful tool that allows users to compare school districts and campuses across a multitude of academic and financial indicators. This first-of-its-kind tool is available free-of-charge to anyone at any time to identify opportunities to improve outcomes and save money. The Web tool and our report will allow districts and campuses to look to similar districts and campuses to find opportunities to improve performance. As Texas addresses budget challenges and the demands of growth, it is essential that we have the most accurate data available to make important, far-reaching decisions.


Susan Combs