During times of financial crisis, state governments generally respond with pragmatic budget cuts, layoffs, and tax increases. These actions often result in a deterioration of government services especially education. In 1990, the Texas State Legislature authorized the state comptroller's office to approach the problem in a different way. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander created an independent program, Texas School Performance Review (TSPR), to review district management and fiscal performance in order to ensure that "every possible tax dollar is spent in the classroom, educating children."
The program is, however, more than just a financial audit; it identifies a district's administrative, organizational, and financial problems and it produces reviews that recommends ways to cut costs, increase revenues, and reduce overhead. From the highest level of district operations to food services and transportation at each school, the TSPR addresses all levels of the educational bureaucracy in order to increase efficiency and ensure that the increasingly scarce dollars spent on education actually make it to the classroom.
One district where the program has been particularly effective is Houston. The sixth largest district in the country, in 1994 Houston was faced with a snarled bureaucracy of more than 22,000 employees. The district's sheer size made it sluggish, especially in adopting those new technologies that create efficiency and save cash. Even employee morale was low, and the local media often focused its harsh lenses on the district's weaknesses.
TSPR's review of Houston led the district to: eliminate 160 administrative positions, including ten area superintendents; to adopt more efficient personnel and payroll automation projects; create strategic planning for annual school budgets; revamp teacher and administrator evaluations; pursue delinquent tax obligations more fervently; and, finally, to contract out food services.
The review served as a wake-up call to the Houston district, which after the changes, created its own staff of internal consultants to review individual departments. The internal consultant staff recently implemented a redesign of Houston's textbook ordering and distribution process, saving millions of dollars. Indeed, the program's broad push towards fiscal responsibility and accountability into the educational realm has created a clear trend towards savings through better management.
Overall, TSPR has had a significant impact on the State of Texas. A total of $85 million in verifiable savings is estimated along with untold savings incurred when each district adopts its own system of internal review. Ultimately, the final goal of "ensuring every possible dollar is spent in the classroom" has created measurable change in the education of Texas students. Scores on annual assessment tests have improved in every district that TSPR has reviewed, and most districts have exceeded the state average.
TSPR's model is already being replicated in other states' educational programs, in particular, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Indeed, the model of operational performance reviews could also be replicated into other state agencies and services. The Texas School Performance Review is a program that manages the efficiency of school business and thrift of outside cost, ensuring that in any financial setting the maximum amount of a state's budget for education will actually make it to the classroom.