Texas Comptroller Susan Combs today announced the launch of a new online database that details public school construction costs since 2007, giving taxpayers more insight into how Texas public school districts have accumulated a third of all outstanding debt issued by local governments.
The Texas Public Schools Construction database can be found at http://www.texastransparency.org/Special_Features/Your_Money/School_Construction/. It will help Texans prepare to vote in the upcoming local bond elections, which feature a total of $6.7 billion of proposed bond debt on the ballot, 92 percent of which is proposed by local school boards.
This is the first publicly accessible database containing Texas public school construction data. To provide greater transparency on new school construction costs, the Comptroller’s office submitted a public information request to every Texas public school district and charter operator to gather data on schools built from 2007 through 2013.
“Texas’ rapid growth has brought tens of thousands of new school-aged children to our state, leading to huge expenses for school construction — more than $14 billion in the past seven years,” Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said. “There is no legislative standard for these costs and no required reporting mechanism, so we are shining a light on this spending so you can hold your local officials accountable for it.”
Among the 10 most populous states, Texas had the second-most local debt per capita in fiscal 2011, behind New York according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Texas public school districts account for the largest share of most property tax bills in Texas. In fiscal 2013, they also held more than half (54 percent) of all outstanding tax-supported debt issued by local governments — $64.8 billion. On average, that’s $13,276 for every student in a district with debt.
Public and charter schools now dedicate 10.8 percent of their total spending to debt repayment, up from 7.6 percent in the 2002-03 school year, according to Texas Education Agency data.
The website also includes an interactive School Construction Campus Map, which provides cost data graphically, making it easy to find the districts in which you are interested. The site also offers lessons learned by the most cost-efficient school districts we’ve surveyed, providing valuable tips other districts can use to contain their own costs.
The data was provided to the Comptroller’s office by local school districts and not independently verified. Later this year, the Comptroller’s office plans to release an analysis of new school construction costs to go along with the new school construction lookup tool launched today.