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That next school finance lawsuit is coming

Look for it when school starts this fall.

Texas lawmakers who left town recently after cutting public education and doing little to fix school funding disparities have guaranteed another school finance lawsuit, according to educators and lawyers involved in the case.

They expect to file a lawsuit later in September.

“There’s going to be litigation. The timing of it is really nothing more than putting together the case. We’re still analyzing all the impact of the mess that they passed,” veteran school finance lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood said.

School superintendents across Texas are “very frustrated,” said John Folks, superintendent of San Antonio’s largest district — Northside ISD — and a respected veteran among the state’s school leaders. Folks is past president of the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Folks sees litigation as a certainty: “If the only option that school districts have to force the Legislature to do what is right — as far as public education is concerned — is a lawsuit, that’s pretty sad.”

Another topic we discussed on that Houston 8 episode I was on was school finance. The mantra Sen. Dan Patrick repeated was that school districts supported the legislation that allowed them to do things like reduce teacher salaries. He’s right about that, but I hope this makes it clear that school districts were not supportive of the rest of the things they did. Lord knows they have no reason to be.

The lowest 10 percent funded school districts in Texas average $5,246 per student from a tax rate averaging $1.15, according to the Equity Center, an Austin-based consortium of nearly 700 Texas school districts. In contrast, the top 10 percent funded Texas school districts average $7,742 per student from an average tax rate of $1 per $100 of property valuation. Simply put, the state’s lesser funded school districts get about $2,500 less per student than the wealthiest districts, despite being forced into levying much larger tax rates.

The system is irrational, unfair, unequal and inefficient, lawyers say.

And they complain that state leaders and legislators willfully ignored the problem.

[…]

Humble ISD is one of about 220 school districts that have hit the maximum school operations tax rate of $1.17 (per $100 of property valuation) and cannot increase revenue.

The district’s administrators have made cuts every year for most of the past decade and now face “even more devastating cuts,” spokeswoman Karen Collier said: “Our backs are truly against the wall.”

The district must accommodate an additional 1,000 children every year.

School districts no longer reap the benefit of property value increases. Increased local property values results in school districts getting less state school funds.

“There’s no way to win. It’s a losing battle,” Collier said. “We’ll go to court.”

Everybody agrees that the Lege did not provide funding to accommodate the continued growth in public school enrollments. We all know that the Lege didn’t come close to addressing the structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut, which will be a big driver of the next deficit. This lawsuit may eventually force a change in how the Legislature addresses school funding, but then it was the last lawsuit that led to the 2006 changes, and we see where that has gotten us. The only way this will truly change is with a different mindset in the Legislature, and that’s going to require throwing a bunch of the current members out. If you want something different, you cannot vote for those who are part of the problem.

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4 Comments

  1. Tom Grantham says:

    One factor that is always ignored in the Equity Center’s numbers is the amount of Federal dollars received. The top 10% received next to nothing in Federal aid while the bottom 10%, from the numbers I am aware of, received as much as 25% of their budget in Federal aid, none of which is included in the $5,246 per student quoted.

    In our sparsely populated district, class room size is usually 12 to 15 students (which has more to do with performance than the money), we have few economies of scale to help make our cost more efficient and yet, thanks, to the Courts we measure cost by student and not by classroom.

    Our district, geographically, is one of the largest in the state (830 sq miles) and also is one of the wealthiest (approximately $700 million tax base) per student (202). And our free and reduced lunch program feeds about half of our students. We have one Arts class, no band, foreign language are by virtual classroom, and we pay our teachers $5,000 over base. Our tax rate is $1.07 and $1.00 of that is set by the Legislature. We receive about $3,000 in Federal funds. We are required to purchase education credits which amount to about 2/3rds of our budget.

    Last, Buck Wood has made a very nice living suing Texas.

  2. […] here and here for some background, and here (via EoW) for a press release on the matter from the Equity […]

  3. […] here, here, and here for some background. School Zone has a list of the districts that have signed on so […]

  4. […] noted in the wire story, this is the Equity Center lawsuit that I have blogged about before. You can read their press release here, and a copy of the complaint they filed […]

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