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Conservatives tend to think local government is better because it is, well, local. But is that a reasonable assumption, if the Local spending is hidden from view and bureaucrats don’t accurately report results?

I recently gave a speech in which the topic of education spending was raised. I mentioned the statewide problems of skyrocketing public education spending versus a flat-line on SAT results. Our schools have trouble producing kids that can function in higher education (50% need remediation in core subjects after they enter college), but yet school calendars are full of “Earth Day” rallies and feel-good hype.

After the speech a school board member approached me, demanding I recant. She said her school district, Spring Branch ISD, disproved every stat I had. She said the district’s budget had remained flat since 2005 and that SAT scores were “up, up, up.”

Sounded nice, even convicting. Too bad it wasn’t true.

Just 15 minutes on the Texas Education Agency website revealed that since 2005 her school district’s SAT scores were down 3 percent and the budget was up 11 percent! Over the last decade, the situation is even worse: the district’s operating budget grew 65%, and SAT scores had fallen 4%. In the meantime, average administrator pay rose 38 percent. Student enrollment was up 3 percent, while the number of full-time employees grew 12 percent.

This school board member repeatedly used the phrases “my superintendent assures me” and “I see the numbers for our school district every day.” I believe she is given such “proof” by the local bureaucracy every day. That’s the problem.

How is your school district performing?

The handy tool I used is the Texas Education Agency’s “Snapshots” reports. This is data collected by the TEA from the school districts. Very basic, simple information on enrollment, test scores, budgets, salaries… Everything a “snapshot” should have, dating back to 1995. Does it tell you everything? No. Does it give you every nuance? No.

It provide the basic data needed to dispel the myths, rumors and guilt-trips used to cajole us into supporting tax hikes. Every Texans should have this tool bookmarked in our web-browsers: www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/snapshot/

Taxpayers must take better advantage of these transparency tools. For citizen activists to be effective, we have to be informed.

And nothing worries bureaucrats — local, state or federal — like an informed electorate.