By Susan Combs, Texas Controller of Public Accounts
Most of Texas 1,024 public school districts and almost all of the 50 community and junior college districts in Texas issue local property tax-supported debt for a variety of purposes including facility construction and renovation, vehicle and technology purchases.
Public School Districts are the largest issuers of local government debt (33 percent), while community colleges — which have been seeing rapid enrollment growth as Texans seek educational and training opportunities — have almost quadrupaled their outstanding debt since fiscal 2001. Despite this debt growth, community colleges still have just 2.2 percent of all local government debt.
The other public provider of higher education in Texas, state universities and colleges, have also increased debt, built and renovated facilities and added enrollment while more than tripling outstanding debt to $12.5 billion. More than a quarter of this debt — $3.3 billion — is directly attributable to the nine public health science centers and medical schools, which have just a small percentage of the 610,000 students attending the state’s universities and colleges.
To give Texans a closer look at the entities that issue education-related debt – and the magnitude of their outstanding debt – the Comptroller’s office has expanded its Texas Transparency website to include an online Debt Education resource with interactive maps detailing outstanding debt issued by Texas school districts, community and junior college district and public colleges and universities.
Public Education Construction Costs
The primary use of public education debt is school construction and renovation. It can be difficult to learn just what our school districts are acquiring with this debt, however, since the state does not collect data on school size, capacity and costs, and few districts provide facilities inventories.
In fall 2012, the Comptroller’s office surveyed a broad group of Texas public school districts on only construction costs. Specifically, the survey requested information on construction costs for new or replacement schools built from 2005 to 2012. This data was requested from 23 districts across Texas ranging in size from fewer than 3,500 students to more than 200,000.
The survey collected information that shows the range of costs per square foot, cost per student and space for student by elementary, middle and high school.
The survey may not be representative of every district statewide.
Download a PDF of our October 2012 report Your Money and Education Debt — A “Texas, It’s Your Money” report.