RICHARDSON (AP) – A Texas education report released Wednesday that rates school districts by looking at student progress and district spending gives only about 4 percent of schools the top designation.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs was asked to do the report by the 2009 Legislature, which wanted the office to develop a way to determine which schools were getting both academic success and cost effectiveness in the way they spent money.

“In a time of economic uncertainty across the country it is very appropriate to look at spending for large sectors of the economy, such as public education,” Combs said during a news conference at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Public education spending is approximately 44 percent of all general revenue spending of the state of Texas.”

With the Legislature set to address a budget shortfall when it meets again in January, Combs noted that public school spending per student has increased by 63 percent in the last decade, outpacing both enrollment and inflation. The report also notes that the growth of administrators in the last decade has increased by 36 percent compared to an increase of 27 percent for teachers.

“The Legislature really wants to find the best of the best,” she said.

Click here to read the Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST).

The report, which also gives districts recommendations on ways to save money, uses a system in which districts get a rating that ranges from one to five stars, with five stars meaning a district has high progress rates and “very low” spending while one-star districts have low progress rates and “very high” spending. Three-star districts could have either “very high” spending combined with high progress rates or “very low” spending combined with low progress.

About 20 percent of districts earned a rating of four to four-and-a-half stars. About 36 percent of districts got a three to three-and-a-half star rating. About 31 percent of districts got a two to two-and-half star rating, while about 10 percent of districts got the lowest rating of one to one-and-a-half stars.

The ratings were determined by looking at student progress in reading and math from TAKS scores and the districts spending compared to as many as 40 similar districts.

The report, called “Connecting the Dots: School Spending and Student Progress,” is available online and allows users do comparisons among peer districts using categories such as dropout rates or math scores.

Recommendations for cost cutting include advice for districts to share school facilities and services with community colleges or other governmental entities and permitting an average of 22 students per class in grades kindergarten through fourth grade instead of limiting size to 22.

Combs said that the study cost about $684,000. She said it will be updated annually at a cost of about $40,000 each year.

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