Textbooks may be on school desks for a decade
With funds held up by lawmakers, state tries to replenish shelves
12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, July 19, 2007
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Texas students will have to use the same textbooks for a few more years while the state braces for a big jump in costs within a few years, largely because of a series of postponed purchases ordered by the Legislature.
State Board of Education members were told Wednesday that they will have to consider a new strategy to handle massive textbook buys with limited funds. Among the options they will have to look at is using more classroom sets of books rather than giving all students their own books.
It also means that students will be using some texts – such as U.S. history books – for longer than a decade, even though state policy calls for a six-year replacement cycle for textbooks in the public schools.
"It's a big concern for us," said state board member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas. "We are raising enough money every year to buy the books we need, but we have to depend on the Legislature to actually appropriate the money – and they have not always done so.
"We're caught in a Catch-22, and as a result, some books will be kept in classrooms longer than we would like."
Textbooks are paid for out of earnings from the state's $26 billion Permanent School Fund, which is overseen by the education board. But the Legislature decides every two years how much money to appropriate for textbooks.
Budget-conscious lawmakers have scaled back board requests for textbook funding and have ordered in two of the last five years that the board not adopt any new books.
As a result, the state will spend only $255 million over the next three years on new textbooks – a fraction of what state education officials proposed.
The postponed purchases – as well as increased costs because of student enrollment growth and rising prices on textbooks – will hit the state budget hard in three years, when the estimated cost of books needed by the 2010-11 school year will be nearly $1 billion, according to a report from the Texas Education Agency.
Most of the books scheduled to be replaced – including English and reading textbooks for elementary grades – will be nine years old by then.
Textbook costs will continue to soar after that, according to the TEA report, as schools catch up on book replacements.
Board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi complained that students would be using U.S. and world history books for at least 10 years, leaving big gaps in their learning of those subjects.
"We can't afford to have textbooks in our schools that are 10 years old," she said, urging other board members to juggle scheduled book adoptions so that history and other social studies books can be replaced sooner.
Board members were presented with a series of options to handle the backlog of textbook purchases, and they will choose from those options over the next few months.
Among the steps the board could take would be to reduce the number of books that school districts could order each year – districts can now order books for up to 110 percent of their enrollment. The board could also reduce the annual price adjustment publishers are allowed for their books – now set at 5 percent.
Texas has historically been one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, giving the state enormous influence over the content of books marketed across the country.