Public School Construction Costs is the latest report from a special report series issued by the Comptroller. In this document, the Comptroller argues that public school districts account for the largest share of property tax bills in Texas, pointing out that in 2012-13, the TEA data show debt service spending rose by 103 percent, while enrollment grew only 19 percent. The question is posed in the report if taxpayers know exactly what they’re getting when they authorize bonds for “millions or even billions of dollars.”

The Combs report makes four recommendations:

  • The commissioner of education should establish data collection and reporting standards concerning school construction costs to be reported through the Texas Student Data System or a successor data management system managed by TEA. These measures should include total construction cost, cost per square foot and per student, total square footage and total student capacity.
  • The commissioner of education should direct each Texas school district and charter school operator to prepare an inventory of all of its existing facilities for inclusion in TEA’s data system. This inventory should include age, purpose, capacity, current enrollment (for instructional facilities) and anticipated replacement date.
  • When TEA’s data system is complete, the agency should report regional cost averages so that districts and their taxpayers can compare projected construction projects with other districts.
  • The Texas Legislature should require all public and charter school districts and campuses to provide a direct, readily accessible link to TEA’s school facilities data on their websites.

The report does not include a cost estimate for implementation of the recommendations at the state level or at the local level.

On May 7, the Fast Growth School Coalition released a school facilities report entitled, “Texas Schools Aren’t Average”, developed in response to information disseminated by the Comptroller earlier this spring.  While the Comptroller’s original information averages the cost and sizes of school buildings across the state, “Texas Schools Aren’t Average” provided a more accurate portrayal of potential cost differences based on factors such as regional differences such as climate and soil type, construction considerations such as foundation types and local building codes, and input by local community members regarding the type of facility they want for their students.

The report consistently emphasizes that “in Texas, decisions regarding public education are made by local communities, and since local communities are all different, that means decisions about educational programs and school buildings are going to vary considerably across the State of Texas.”  The report reinforced the problems with using averages in a state as large and diverse as Texas. The Fast Growth School Coalition study may be read at Texas School's Aren't Average.