School funding declared unconstitutional
An Austin judge has ruled the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional two weeks ago.
School has just started in Orange County and two school superintendents shared their thoughts on the judgment and how it will affect their districts. In a 21-page Final Judgment, State District Judge John Dietz declared the Texas school finance system “constitutionally inadequate, unsuitable, and financially inefficient” and ordered that further funding stop “under the system until the constitutional infirmities are corrected.”
Dr. Stephen Patterson, Orangefield ISD superintendent, believes the ruling is long overdue.
He explained it as when a child moves to a different school district and enrolls the annual expenditure per student either goes up or down depending on property values.
“A poor school district can be taxed at a much higher rate and still receive less money from the state. They should be funded at an equal level,” Patterson said.
The Texas Supreme Court will rule on the current school finance system since it was immediately appealed by the state. The Supreme Court will have a final verdict but it may be as late as the middle of next year.
He believes the Legislature which convenes next year won’t address school financing until the Supreme Court addresses the issue.
“How is it fair for one district to spend $13,000 a year on one child versus a school district that can only spend $4,200 per year for a child?” he asked.
Patterson said schools are economies of scale where greater resources are paid per student in wealthier districts and resources are paid at a reduced rate because some districts are property-poor.
He added that the “Robin Hood Plan,” or Chapter 41, is still in existence where a district who has above x amount of wealth is given to the state and the state redistributes it to a lower funded district.
“Just tell us what the number is to educate a child and whatever that number is, is equitable,” Patterson said.
Dietz’s decision comes 18 months after his original February 2013 ruling in favor of school districts, according to a press release from the Texas Association of School Administrators. Dietz reopened the case to reconsider evidence after lawmakers provided partial restoration of state funding to school districts and made significant changes to the state’s testing and graduation requirements in the 83rd Legislative Session.
The specific findings of the court are as follows:
“[T]he Court finds that the Texas school finance system effectively imposes a state property tax in violation of Article VIII, Section 1-e of the Texas Constitution because school districts do not have meaningful discretion over the levy, assessment, and disbursement of local property taxes.”
“The Court further finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated, and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren.”
“Further, the school finance system is constitutionally inadequate because it cannot accomplish, and has not accomplished, a general diffusion of knowledge for all students due to insufficient funding.”
“Finally, the school finance system is financially inefficient because all Texas students do not have substantially equal access to the educational funds necessary to accomplish a general diffusion of knowledge.”
Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said, “Today’s decision is just a first step on a very familiar path for school finance litigation in Texas. Regardless of the ruling at the district court level, all sides have known this is an issue that will again be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court. Texas is committed to finding solutions to educate every student in every classroom. However, it should be our state leaders making those decisions, not a single judge.”
Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD
Dr. Pauline Hargrove, superintendent of Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD, said Dietz’s ruling was to provide for equity in school financing.
“Students in different school districts are currently receiving different amounts in funding. It’s not fair and equitable to the students or to the taxpayers,” Hargrove said. “One district receives one amount and another received much more.”
She gave as an example of giving $60 and receiving back $100. However, if that $100 is divided by others, the district is still not receiving as much.
Hargrove said Dietz’s original ruling before the Legislature met in 2013 where the school financing system was ruled unconstitutional. The Legislature later gave more money to the schools from a previous $5 billion cut to the education fund.
“Some properties don’t raise as much (funding) depending on values,” she said. “So many family members in LC-M work at Chemical Row (in Orange). We would love to have that money (in Orange) to help out LC-M.
“We want to be fair to everyone. If the taxpayer pays a certain amount of taxes that ought to generate the same amount here, but it doesn’t. There’s a huge disparity.”
As with Patterson, Hargrove thinks the Texas Supreme Court will make a ruling and probably send it back to the Legislature when they’re in session as it has been done in the past.
“It’s not an easy solution, but if you hold to the same standards I do believe a standard amount can be paid for each child. It has got to be our goal. Every child is valuable and all students are valuable. Education will benefit them and society,” Hargrove said.