Michael Messer is a parent activist in Texas. He wrote this comment in response to Sara Stevenson’s post about the true cost of testing in Texas.

I am glad to see people writing about my bill. I am the original author of HB 1336 (aka, “Transparency in Testing”), and the person who Mrs. Stevenson saw speak at the Save Texas Schools rally. Representative Leach is the legislative sponsor. I am not a CPA, but I have been an accountant for the last seven years. During that time I have served as the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Organizer for Save Texas Schools.

It was through my public education advocacy work that I found out that nobody has any idea how much we are really spending on standardized testing. The commonly reported number is $90 million per year, but that accounts for little more than the state’s contract with ETS & Pearson to print the test, score the test, and send out a few roaming consultants. It fails to include the bulk of direct costs associated with testing (most notably the salaries of certified educators who are forced to proctor the tests) which are paid for by the districts.

Recent estimates have indicated a price tag closer to $13 BILLION per year. That is over 1/5th our entire public education budget every year, or in terms Texans can appreciate, up to 10 times what we spend on our athletic programs or even administrative salaries.

I wrote HB 1336 in December to address what I believe is a material lack of transparency in the yearly financial reports submitted by our school districts to the Texas Education Agency. It was written in consultation with education experts from both sides of the political spectrum, and it has gained public support from county parties, elected officials, and candidates from across the state. Representative Jeff Leach, a noted conservative Republican, sponsored the bill, and it was co-authored by Representative Lina Ortega, a Democrat out of El Paso.

In short, HB 1336 adds just a couple of lines to the Texas Education Code which would require the districts to include a total of testing-related expenses on the financial reports they already submit to the TEA every year. In my opinion, we cannot expect to engage in any substantive conversation regarding the finance of our public schools without a full picture of how the funds are being spent.

Here is a link to the text of the bill:


The draconian $5.4 billion cut imposed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 was devastating to our schools, and that was over a two year period. Every other year, the public has to fight over the scraps we are given for gifted, AP, disability, athletic, music, art, career & tech, and numerous other programs. Giving the public a view of exactly how much we are spending on standardized testing is the first step toward freeing up the $13 billion (and 45+ class days) per year we spend on the tests.

HB 1336 doesn’t eliminate standardized testing, but it sure as heck would change the dialogue about public education in Texas. For instance, I had one man ask me, “How much are you wasting on educating illegal immigrants?” Here is my response:

“While I’m not partial to calling anyone ‘illegal,’ nor do I consider education for anyone to be a ‘waste,’ I think I might actually be able to formulate a decent answer your question. First, let’s assume that you are asking about the total of all education-related expenditures on children of unauthorized immigrants who are also unauthorized themselves. Anyone born in the United States is a citizen of the United States.

According to a January 2016 report from the Migration Policy Institute, 834,000 children of unauthorized immigrants lived in Texas in 2013. Of those, 667,000 were U.S. citizens. That means that 167,000 were children who were at the time considered unauthorized immigrants.

Of the 834,000 children of unauthorized immigrants, 566,000 were of an age where they might have attended public school. Assuming the same ratio of roughly 80% U.S. citizens, the total number of unauthorized immigrant students in Texas in 2013 would have been approximately 113,200.

According to PEIMS statewide financial data which is publicly accessible on the Texas Education Agency’s website, we spent an average of $9,902.64 per student in 2013.

$9,902.64 x 113,200 = $1.1 billion

The acting assumption of most questions like yours tends to be that the parents of these children pay none of the associated taxes. While I could easily debate that with you, let’s assume that were true, and the entire $1.1 billion in funding associated with educating those children came out of the taxes paid by the rest of the children’s parents. That would mean that of the $9,902.64 schools get per student, $226.70 would be attributable to educating unauthorized immigrants.

If we were to presume instead that parents of unauthorized immigrant students pay sales and property taxes, then the only portion of the public education budget that this issue would apply to is federal funding. Of the $50 billion in total funding Texas public schools received in 2013, $5.6 billion came from the federal government. That’s approximately $1,101.27 per student.

$1,101.27 x 113,200 = $125 million (note the “m”)

Dividing that over the remaining student population would mean that $25.21 out of $9,902.64 would be attributable to educating unauthorized immigrants. So now we have a range we can agree is somewhere between $25.21 – $226.70.
By comparison, recent estimates indicate that we spend up to $13.4 billion per year on standardized testing. That’s around $2,700 per student. In light of all of this, wouldn’t it be more prudent to focus on how much we spend on standardized testing instead of blaming immigrant students for the scarce education resources our schools receive to teach our kids?”

It’s amazing how easy it is to put into perspective the scapegoats that have traditionally been used to justify minimal resources for public education when you’ve taken the time to research the numbers. Think about how conversations will change when the public has access to a full account of all expenses related to standardized testing. That is what HB 1336 (aka, “Transparency in Testing”) was written to accomplish. When we know better, we make better decisions.

If you would like to see a dramatic shift in the public discourse regarding public education in Texas, please visit my page, http://www.facebook.com/TransparencyinTesting, share the information, and ask your legislators to support HB 1336. Thank you!