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February 26, 2014

Comptroller Announces More Texas Schools Achieving High Academic Progress While Keeping Spending Low

(AUSTIN) —Texas Comptroller Susan Combs released the new interactive Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) website today, which shows an increase in school districts earning the highest ranking of five stars. Five-star districts succeed in improving student achievement while keeping spending relatively low.

The 2013 FAST ratings identified 55 school districts across the state that earned the highest rating of five stars, up from 45 school districts in 2012.

The new website, www.fastexas.org, allows Texans to compare school districts and campuses statewide on key academic and financial measures with a multitude of custom reporting features.

For instance, parents moving to a new city can use the FAST Tracker Web application to see the relationship between tax dollars spent per student and the educational outcomes of school districts and campuses. In all there are about 200 data points that allow a user to see how school districts match up in categories such as average student-teacher ratio, average teacher salary, spending per student, average graduation and dropout rates, as well as outstanding debt per student.

“I am pleased to see more schools being better stewards of our citizens’ tax dollars while achieving better academic outcomes,” Combs said. “Our new Web tool gives parents, businesses, and community leaders access to information that helps them see how well schools in their area are utilizing public funds in comparison to other districts across the state.”

The website also has a section on smart practices – innovative and practical ways school districts across Texas are saving costs and improving student achievement through smart practices in facilities, business services, staffing, technology, and student services.

FAST is updated annually using the most recent data from the Texas Education Agency.

“I commend the work of Comptroller Combs and her staff for providing Texans with a tool that offers greater awareness on how local education dollars are being utilized,” said Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams.

The 2013 FAST ratings are assigned to 1,141 school districts and charters. Based on the FAST formula, school districts and campuses receive ratings from one to five stars, in half-star increments. A district that achieves the highest rating of five stars ranks among the top 20 percent of all Texas school districts in academic progress, while keeping expenditures among the lowest 20 percent of fiscally comparable districts.

The updated FAST web application also features:

  • The ability to generate simple and customized school district and campus reports showing detailed academic, financial and demographic data.
  • Design changes to make sharing FAST data easier than ever.
  • The ability to link directly to a school district or campus report allowing for new opportunities for transparency.
  • Historical data and trends over time, giving education data more context and perspective.

“Now more than ever in this era of tight school budgets, parents want to know that their school districts are spending precious dollars carefully and in a way that supports student achievement," said Leslie Boggs, President of the Texas PTA. "The FAST Report analyzes both spending and student achievement and assigns each district one to five stars based on how well they manage spending while meeting academic goals. Texas PTA members applaud financial transparency and welcome information that helps them to more fully understand the operations of their school districts and how those operations impact student achievement.”

The 2009 Legislature’s House Bill 3 directed the Comptroller to “identify school districts and campuses that use resource allocation practices that contribute to high academic achievement and cost-effective operations.”

When comparing district and campus spending, the FAST methodology groups districts and campuses into sets of “fiscal peers” that operate in similar cost environments, including regional wages, district size and student characteristics. Additionally, the FAST methodology measures academic progress by controlling for the varying characteristics of students and districts and campuses to estimate how much a district or campus contributes to student learning.

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