Texas Teacher Salaries: How Does Austin Stack Up Against the Rest of the State?

As both an Austin, TX resident and a spouse of a public elementary school teacher, I have a particular interest in the way we fund our education in Texas, and specifically how that funding translates into salaries for teachers. My wife, Emily, and I have recently moved back to Austin after living in Dallas for a few years, where she also worked as an elementary school teacher. We were surprised to find out that she would actually be taking a pay-cut with the move to Austin ISD; to us, it seemed that the cost of living was higher in Austin (especially housing costs) and it seemed natural that the pay would be at least equal or even more than it was in Dallas ISD.

After digging a little deeper, I quickly found that Texas school funding is a many-layered onion that has been covered and debated exhaustively. Just this summer, the Texas Supreme Court released a ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the way we fund our schools. One of the more controversial aspects of Texas school funding is a law that requires a redistribution of funds between districts in an effort to equalize “property-wealth per student”.  This law seems to have an out-sized effect on Austin ISD; a relative increase in property values has caused Austin ISD to pay the largest amount into the recapture fund each year since 2007. From 2007 to 2014, Austin ISD paid an average of ~$130M into the recapture fund. This amount has jumped to over $180M in 2015 and $230M in 2016, and according to preliminary estimates, the district is expected to pay a whopping $358M in 2017!

I find it hard to reconcile these two impressions: on one hand, Austin ISD is considered a wealthy district, one that can afford to send excess revenue to other, poorer districts; and on the other hand, teachers are paid less in Austin ISD than teachers in Dallas ISD, who according to the reports on the Texas Education Agency’s website, have never paid into the recapture fund. I’d like to look deeper into this issue to try to resolve my conflicting impressions, and to see what story the available data can tell. Does Austin ISD have a truly lower salary than other comparable Texas school districts? If so, does this effect disappear after we control for cost of living or other factors, like tenure? What is the relationship between recapture payments and teacher salaries in various districts across the state? How large is recapture in comparison to the overall school district budget for Austin, and how does this payment affect the average tax-payer in the district? I hope to answer these questions and more on this site. I’ll also host any code used for analysis in a public repository on GitHub (https://github.com/blincoe/Texas-Teacher-Comp) along the way.

If you have any expertise in this area, please feel free to email me and let me know your thoughts / share guidance.