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School District Mandates

Various state and federal laws and rules require Texas school districts to create specific programs or maintain certain standards, which they believe increases their costs. As part of the FAST project, the Comptroller’s research team asked districts to identify any policies or legislation that impede their progress or represent underfunded or unfunded mandates. The following issues provide examples of mandates related directly to factors driving school costs, such as payroll and operating costs.

Class Size Limit

Texas school districts must limit class size to 22 students per teacher in kindergarten through grade four.

  • Districts may apply to TEA for waivers from this requirement.10
  • Districts must obtain a waiver for each grade level and each campus for which they seek exemption from the 22-student limit.
  • According to TEA, in 2009-10 the agency granted 940 waivers to 543 campuses in 143 districts, or about 14 percent of all districts. A school must request a waiver for each classroom.
  • These school districts had 735,646 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Many school officials believe the “22:1” limit interferes with their ability to staff campuses cost-effectively.

Many school officials believe the “22:1” limit interferes with their ability to staff campuses cost-effectively, asserting that classes with up to 25 students can operate without any loss of instructional effectiveness. Some suggest that the 22:1 requirement be based upon average class size rather than applying to all classes, giving districts more flexibility to set class size, allocate resources and limit costs.

For example, a district with 66 students in second grade currently must have three teachers, but the addition of just one more student would require the hiring of another teacher plus the acquisition of additional classroom space.

  • Mandating that all K-4 classes have no more than 22 students per teacher results in many having significantly fewer than 22 students per teacher.
  • Currently, the average K-4 classroom in Texas has 19.3 students.
  • Based on average teacher salaries in kindergarten through fourth grade, the cost difference between the current average of 19.3 students per K-4 classroom and a statewide average of 22 students per classroom is $558 million.

Staff Benefits

Retirement benefits generally are funded by state and employee contributions.

  • The state contributed 6.58 percent of each teacher’s salary to the TRS pension plan in 2008-09.
  • The state contribution rate, however, applies only to the amount of each teacher’s salary set in the state minimum salary schedule; districts must supply the state’s share of any teacher salary amount above the state minimum.11

School districts, their employees and the state also contribute to the Teacher Retirement System for health benefits.

  • TRS-ActiveCare provides health insurance for active school district employees.
  • TRS-Care provides health insurance for retirees.

Exhibit 11 shows school district and employee contributions to various TRS programs in 2008-09.

Exhibit 11

Contributions to Teacher Retirement and Health Benefit Plans, 2008-09

Benefit State School Districts and Employees
Retirement $1,322,152,760 Districts: $442,097,037
Employees: $1,715,897,645
Health Care, Active Teachers* $517,200,00 $648,518,213
Health Care, Retired Teachers $244,281,955 Districts: $134,355,705
Employees: $172,898,170
Total $2,083,634,715 $3,113,776,770

* Neither TEA nor TRS disaggregates district and employee contributions for TRS-ActiveCare.

Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Testing Requirements

State law requires TEA to test public school students on what they have learned. TEA developed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for this purpose. School districts incur some costs associated with state testing requirements.

In 2008-09, school districts reported expenditures of nearly $37 million on testing materials.

  • School districts often spend weeks preparing for and administering the TAKS tests, an effort including staff training on security and test administration.
  • School districts must keep test records for five years, which can involve storage costs.12
  • School districts also are responsible for some of the costs of testing materials, such as benchmark tests administered to assess student progress in acquiring the knowledge and skills assessed in TAKS.
  • In 2008-09, school districts reported expenditures of nearly $37 million on testing materials. Not included in this amount was staff time devoted to test preparation and administration.

Reporting Requirements

In addition to academic and financial reporting, districts must prepare many other reports and public notices (Exhibit 12). The costs of these reporting requirements can be significant.

  • Eight of the required notices must be published in local newspapers, often for several days.
  • The costs of newspaper ads can range from a few hundred dollars in the smallest regional papers to thousands of dollars up to $6,000 in larger cities such as Corpus Christi and major markets such as Dallas.
  • Districts only have to buy ads when they have a reason to issue one of these required notices; not all of these notices are required each year.
  • Assuming three notices per district each year at an average cost for newspaper notices, required reports cost Texas school districts about $4 million annually. If districts average more than three such notices each year, the costs are greater.

Exhibit 12.

Texas School Districts: Required Reports

Annual Audit Report Notice of Parental Rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Annual Financial Management Report, Notice, and Hearing* Notice of Proposed Budget and Tax Rate*
Annual Improvement in Student Achievement Report Notice of Public Education Grant Eligibility
Annual School District Performance Report Notice of School Board Meetings
Audit of Purchasing Contracts Notice of School Health Advisory Council Meetings
Budget Summary Report Notice of Student Physical Activity Policies and Data
Bus Accident Report Notice of Tobacco Use Policies
Campus/School Report Cards Notice of Vacant Positions
Check Register Notice Required for Awarding Job Order Contracts
Disciplinary Alternative Education Program Placements and Expulsions Report Notice to Home-Schooled Students*
Dissemination of Bacterial Meningitis Information Notices Required for Awarding Competitive Bidding Contracts*
Dissemination of Employment Policies Notices Required for Hiring a Construction Manager-At-Risk
Dissemination of Gifted and Talented Program Policies Notices Required for Purchase Valued at $25,000 or more*
Electricity, Water, and Natural Gas Consumption Report Notices Required for Purchases of Personal Property Valued between $10,000 and $25,000*
Expenditure and Revenue Report Notices Required for Selecting a Contractor through Competitive Sealed Proposals
Filing of Adopted Budget Notification of Landowner’s Bill of Rights
Hearing Regarding Use of High School Allotment Funds Posting of Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Statements
Informed Choice Report for Electronic Course Pilot Program Posting of District and Campus Performance Reports
Monthly Report of District Contributions for Employee Compensation above the State Minimum Salary Schedule Report of Diagnostic Reading Test Results
Notice and Report of Results of Intensive Math and Science Instruction Programs Report of Instructional Expenditures Ratio and Instructional Employees Ratio
Notice of “Top 10 Percent” Automatic College Admissions Law and Eligibility Report of Management Fees under Purchasing Contracts
Notice of an Election* Report of Natural Gas and Liquefied Petroleum Pipe Testing Results
Notice of Availability of Student Physical Fitness Assessment Results Report of Technology Literacy Assessment Results
Notice of Available College Credit Programs for High School Students Reporting of Cardiovascular Screening Results
Notice of Bilingual and Special Language Programs Reporting of College Preparation Assessment Results
Notice of Boundary Change to Voter Registrar Results of School Facilities Security Audit
Notice of Campus Rating Retiree Report
Notice of Class Size Limit Waiver School Breakfast and Lunch Program Data Report
Notice of District’s Low Accreditation Status* State Spending Targets Report and Board Resolution
Notice of Food Service and Vending Machine Guidelines Student Immunization Status Report
Notice of Group Health Benefits for School Employees Student Report Cards and Notice of Unsatisfactory Performance

*Repost must be published in a newspaper.

Source: Texas Association of School Boards.

All links were valid at the time of publication. Changes to web sites not maintained by the office of the Texas Comptroller may not be reflected in the links below.

  • 10 Texas Educ. Code Ann. §25.112.
  • 11 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. §825.405.
  • 12 Texas Admin. Code §101.3005.