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

Contact Us | FAQ

Skip main navigation Skip left navigation

Frequently Asked Questions

Sign Up for Updates

Want to receive regular updates about this site? Join our e-mail list

If your question is not answered here, contact us.

If you have a specific data questions, please e-mail your question to us and include a daytime phone number and contact name.

Choose your topic:

New for 2013

How is the 2013 FAST update different than the FAST release of 2012?

Changes have been made to the 2013 FAST methodology from 2012. The 2013 FAST methodology incorporates available STAAR tests into the academic model. Interaction terms were added to identify the grade level of each student taking STAAR tests. The financial model now uses the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to calculate the Comparable Wage Index (CWI).

Care is taken to keep the Fiscal Peers groups as consistent as possible from year to year. Fiscal Peers are used in conducting cost comparison among districts and campuses. For more information, read the FAST methodology.

Where can I find FAST data?

The latest campus and district lists, as well as lists of fiscal peers can be found in the Results section.

Results from 2012, 2011 and 2010 can be found by clicking the Previous link in the left navigation.

In addition, all data files from current and past releases are available for download at the FAST Data Download page and the Comptroller’s Open Data Center. Data from the 2013 release will be available in the 2011-12 school year files; data from the 2012 release is found in the 2010-11 school year files; data from the 2011 release is found in the 2009-10 school year files. In addition, lists of fiscal peers from 2011 and 2010 are available at the FAST Data Download page.

Why are the FAST ratings for my district or campus different this year?

FAST ratings can change for a number of reasons. Factors may include relative student progress or spending, the makeup of the financial comparison group (fiscal peers), fiscal peer expenditures, and financial adjustments related to shared-service arrangements. Contact us for more information.

Back to top.


What is the Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST)?

The Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) is a detailed study of Texas public school funding and its relation to academic achievement. An accompanying Web-based tool allows anyone with Internet access to see the results of the study and to use its data to compare school districts with one another on measures of spending and academic success.

Why did the Comptroller’s office do this study?

The 2009 Texas Legislature’s House Bill 3 required the Texas Comptroller’s office to conduct this study.

Public education is the largest single expense faced by Texas’ state and local governments. School districts that operate efficiently — achieving strong academic performance while keeping costs low — offer valuable examples for other districts.

Strategies used by the high-performing districts identified in this report could help our Texas slow the rapid growth of educational spending while ensuring that our high school graduates are ready to succeed in college or the work force.

What does this study show?

FAST can be used to identify Texas school districts that produce high achievement while maintaining cost-effective operations among their fiscal peers, based on academic and financial performance indicators developed especially for this study.

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, such as student demographics, economic disadvantage and limited English proficiency. 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.

What is unique about this study?

No single ranking of school district performance could account for all the factors that affect student achievement and operational cost-effectiveness. FAST is unique in that it views school performance through multiple “lenses” — mechanisms that take into account of the wide variety of circumstances in which Texas districts operate, some of them beyond the schools’ control.

For this reason, this study does NOT provide a 1 to 1,200 ranking of district performance. Rather, districts and campuses are grouped into fiscal peer groups for spending comparison purposes and ranked within those groups. The average fiscal peer group size is 40.

To ensure that all school districts are rated on a level playing field, our academic progress measures involve 32 variables (including factors such as student demographics, economic disadvantage and limited English proficiency), while our spending methodology controls for eight variables (such as labor costs, enrollment and geographic size) to determine the most relevant fiscal peer groups. This method allows us to make fair and accurate appraisals of relative school district and campus success.

Is this study a ranking of every district and campus?

No. This study is not a top-to-bottom ranking of every school district or campus in Texas. Given the vast differences in funding, student characteristics and community conditions across the state, such comparisons are neither plausible nor useful.

Instead, it examines Texas school districts and campuses by two measures: academic progress, as measured by student performance over time on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests; and relative cost-effectiveness, as measured by a new, Comptroller-developed spending index.

The measure of academic progress, based on three years’ worth of test results and adjusted for a series of factors affecting student performance, can be used for statewide comparisons.

The spending index, by contrast, compares district and campus performance to that of a series of up to 40 “fiscal peers” with comparable socioeconomic and financial characteristics, to ensure a level playing field.

Our star ratings combine the measures of academic progress and cost-effectiveness to identify Texas school districts and campuses with the highest relative academic progress and lowest relative spending (with spending compared only within their fiscal peer group).

Who assisted with this study?

The FAST project involved extensive collaboration between the Comptroller’s office and recognized experts in the field both in Texas and across the United States.

The project’s methods were developed with the assistance of researchers at some of the state’s top institutions of higher education. The FAST team also received input and practical suggestions on the development of the underlying methodology from a Superintendent Advisory Committee representing district leaders from across the state, as well as an advisory group of Texas school board members. The team also met with teachers, principals and education groups to discuss and address their concerns before the results were calculated.

What do the star ratings mean?

Districts and campuses each receive a FAST Rating between one and five stars. The rating is a quick metric that provides a snapshot of the district’s or campus’ academic progress compared to its relative spending within its fiscal peer group. Five stars represents the ideal measure. See the Executive Summary for more information about this measure.

Back to top.


Who compiled the FAST scores/rankings?

The Comptroller’s FAST team compiled the scores with input from school officials and educational experts from throughout the state.

What is the FAST Rating?

The FAST rating combines measures of both academic progress and spending to identify school districts responsible for strong and cost-effective academic growth. Districts are assigned a rating of from one to five stars indicating their success in combining prudent spending with academic success.

What are the math and reading progress scores and the academic composite progress scores, and what do they mean?

The math and reading progress scores used in FAST are drawn from three years of results on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Texas’ annual assessment of public school student progress. Our academic composite progress rating combines these math and reading scores into a single measure of student success that gauges student gains over time, controlling for various student characteristics that affect academic performance.

What is the spending index and what does it mean?

The FAST spending index measures relative school district spending. It compares financial data for each district to that of other districts that can be considered “fiscal peers,” in that they are of similar size, serve similar students and face similar wage requirements.

What is a fiscal peer and why is it important?

Texas school districts operate in a wide variety of “cost environments” – the socioeconomic and geographic characteristics that influence the cost of education and are often beyond the school district’s control. The FAST team evaluated financial data for each district by comparing them to other districts or campuses that can be considered “fiscal peers,” in that they operate in similar cost environments, are of similar size and serve similar students.

To identify fiscal peers, the FAST team employed a technique called propensity-score matching to identify up to 40 peers for each Texas school district, based on common cost factors such as teacher and other employee wages, enrollment size and student demographics.

Based on these comparisons, each district received a financial rating, a “spending index” ranging from very low to very high, with very low indicating the lowest relative spending in the fiscal peer group and very high representing the highest.

Where can I get more information on the detailed methodology?

For more information on the FAST methodology, go to the FAST Methodology page.

Back to top.

Smart Practices

How did you select the Smart Practices featured on this site?

To identify Smart Practices, we contacted “five-star” districts identified in the FAST analysis and asked them to describe strategies and programs they credit as contributing to their success.

We also contacted other districts with strong academic performance or low spending relative to their fiscal peers. Finally, we consulted experts in the field – superintendents, school board members, staff at regional education service centers, stakeholder associations and others with knowledge of effective school district practices – who identified other school districts that might offer additional “smart practice” ideas. The Smart Practices section will continue to grow as new information is shared by districts.

How do you define a Smart Practice?

A Smart Practice must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • has proven to be an effective practice for containing, reducing or avoiding costs;
  • improves the efficiency and effectiveness of educational program delivery, including demonstrated improvement in student performance;
  • is estimated to produce a significant long-term return on investment for the district;
  • has significantly increased purchasing power though the use of purchasing partnerships;
  • has realized efficiencies through the use of shared-service arrangements with other districts; and/or
  • can be implemented by other districts.

How can a district or campus share its Smart Practice for possible inclusion on this site?

We welcome such input from Texas school districts and individual campuses and encourage them to contact us.

How can the Smart Practices be useful to other districts across the state?

Most Smart Practices identified in the FAST report are not limited to the specific circumstances of a single school district – they can be used or adapted by other districts that wish to improve their cost-effectiveness and service delivery.

Back to top.


Where can I get a printout of the FAST rating for every district or campus?

For a printable FAST overview of every school district and campus, visit the Results section to download the lists in PDF format.

Where can I learn more about public education in Texas?

To learn more about public education in Texas, visit the Texas Education Agency website.

Back to top.