Texas school finance system back in court


MALDEF RETURNS TO COURT TO DEFEND RIGHTS OF TEXAS SCHOOL CHILDREN

Texas judge reopens case
examining Texas’ public school finance system after holding early last year that
it was unconstitutional and arbitrary

 

AUSTIN,
TX
–
On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, MALDEF will return to court to demonstrate that
the Texas public school finance system remains inequitable and inadequate. In
a MALDEF victory for Texas children early last year, Travis County District
Court Judge John K. Dietz held that the system was arbitrary, inequitable and
inadequate under the Texas Constitution, detailing gross inequities for
property-poor school districts and failures of the system for low income and
English Language Learner (ELL) children.Last June, before issuing
his final judgment, Judge Dietz decided to reopen the evidence and hold a
supplementary hearing to examine the effect of legislative changes to the
state’s educational system that were made after his initial ruling.

 


Thomas
A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated,
”In response to the court’s
unexceptionable ruling last year, the Texas Legislature chose to administer a
band-aid rather than engage in the major surgery required to ensure equity in
the state’s public school system. We are confident that the court will
see through the inadequate legislative changes and once again determine that
Texas has much to do before satisfying its own constitution’s imperatives in
public education.”

 

MALDEF
filed the consolidated case, Edgewood Independent School District v.
Williams,
in December 2012 following substantial cuts to school funding
by the Texas Legislature and an increase in curriculum and testing standards
for individual students.More than 600 school districts
responsible for educating three-quarters of the state’s 5 million-plus public
school students joined the lawsuit. They claimed that financial support
provided by the Texas Legislature was inadequate and unfairly distributed
after lawmakers voted in 2011 to slash public education funding and
educational grant programs by $5.4 billion.Plaintiffs represented
by MALDEF argued that the Texas school finance system increased the inequity
for low-wealth school districts to pre-1993 levels, forcing those districts
to tax at higher rates but collect less revenue compared to higher-wealth
school districts. In addition, Plaintiffs showed that arbitrary and
inadequate funding for low income and ELL students, as well as the overall
insufficient funding for lower-wealth school districts, had stripped
Plaintiff school districts of the power to exercise meaningful local control
of their taxes. This forced school districts to make unnecessary cuts to
their educational programs and tax at or near the $1.17 cap simply to satisfy
State mandates.

 

Judge
Dietz ruled in favor of each of the claims brought by MALDEF last February
after more than three months of testimony.In his oral ruling,
Judge Dietz criticized the State for failing to meet its obligation to
provide equitable funding for children in property-poor school
districts.He noted that children in property-poor districts do
not have substantially equal access to similar revenue at similar tax
efforts, that the State is not producing career and college ready students, and
that the system arbitrarily and inadequately funds the education of ELL and
low income schoolchildren — paying no attention to their actual educational
needs.

 


David
Hinojosa, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF, stated,
“The State of Texas cannot
attempt to dumb down our constitution with their ill-conceived educational
policies and continue to avoid providing the educational opportunities Texas
children need to succeed. We are saddened, though confident, that the next
three weeks of testimony will show that Texas's school finance system remains
unfair and unconstitutional.”

 

Following
the February 2013 ruling, the Texas Legislature restored $3.5 billion to
public education, reduced high-stakes testing, and changed required
graduation plans– changes the State argues fixed the
deficiencies.MALDEF counters that the equity gap closed slightly
but still has property-poor districts taxing on average ten cents higher than
wealthy districts but receiving about $1,000 less per
child.MALDEF further argues that regardless of which graduation
plans are in place, all students are still required under law to graduate
college and career ready, and the substantial record, coupled with the latest
achievement results, show that ELL and low-income students continue to fail at
dismal rates.MALDEF argues that the insubstantial 2013
legislative changes have not diminished the rectitude of the prior ruling.

 

MALDEF
represents parents of low income and ELL students attending public schools in
Pasadena ISD and Amarillo ISD, and the following low-wealth school
districts:Edgewood ISD, Harlingen CISD, La Feria ISD, McAllen
ISD, and San Benito CISD.The hearing is expected to last
approximately three weeks and begins at 10:00 a.m. CST on
Tuesday.MALDEF will present opening statement.