Eliminating the Texas School Finance System Is Bad for Children and Is Bad Public Policy
February 20, 2003
Why is an equitable funding system required?
Equity in funding is good for children, and it is the law. Before the current system was put into place, some children had holes in the roofs of their schools while others had planetariums. Some learned and later earned, while many were denied a fair chance.
In the long-standing Edgewood school finance case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the current system of funding public schools is both equitable and constitutional. If the system is eliminated without a specific alternative, the state of Texas will be open to new court challenges and years of instability. More importantly, most children in most Texas schools will lose.
Who will be impacted by eliminating the existing system of school finance?
All Texas public schools will be impacted by eliminating the current funding system.
Who loses and who wins?
Everyone loses and no one wins if we eliminate equity in school funding. Out of the 1,033 school districts in the state of Texas, 917 districts who educate 91 percent of Texas children will lose over $11 billion that the state provides through the current funding system. Those districts will have to raise local taxes or cut spending by firing teachers or eliminating programs for children. The 116 or so school systems that "share the wealth" also will lose in an unequal system that dims the future of economic productivity in Texas.
If the state reinstates some funding but does not require the wealthiest districts to share revenue, the 887 school districts that directly benefit from the $1.2 billion provided by recapture will no longer have that funding available. If state lawmakers stick by the pledge to not raise taxes, those school districts will have to cut back programs, reduce their teaching or other staff, or raise taxes.
Why do they call the current system "Robin Hood" anyway?
Some would have us believe that money is taken from wealthy districts and is given to poor districts and that the taxpayers in those wealthy districts subsidize the taxpayers in the poor districts. This is not the case.
As stated in the February 10, 2003, San Antonio Express-News editorial: "Much of the wealth enjoyed by these property-rich school districts comes not from individual taxpayers but from the businesses that have located in those communities. Often these businesses were established at those sites because of state-financed infrastructure, which is funded by taxpayers across Texas. It is only fair to expect that public school students across the state reap the benefits."
What is proposed as a replacement for the current funding system?
Nothing. While some plans call for committees to study and recommend alternatives, no alternative funding system would be required for two years. In the meantime, schools will not know what the new system looks like and will not be able to make long-term plans, like how many teachers they can afford and whether or not there will be money to build new schools.
Why should I be concerned about eliminating the current system?
If you are a taxpayer, you do not know if your local school taxes are going to go up or down or stay the same, and you will not know that for at least two years (until 2005).
If you are a parent, you do not know what kind of school program your child will be provided. Since the state would eliminate existing formulas that are based on student characteristics, you do not know if special education will get funding and, if it does, how much. The same questions will exist for low-income pupils, gifted and talented children, and children who do not speak English.
If you live in a rural community, you will not know if the extra money that your community gets because it is small or out in the country will be continued, or if the state will continue to give you money for buses. And you will not have any answers until the committee makes recommendations in 2005.
Is the current funding system so bad that it cannot be fixed?
A handful of people think so, but they are part of the small number who want to spend thousands of dollars more on "their" children than anyone else and pay lower taxes at the same time. The truth is that with a few minor adjustments, things that some schools are worried about can be fixed. For example, some complain that the existing limit on taxes needs to be changed. And it can be by simply raising the limit from the current $1.50 to something higher. Even the complaints of the wealthiest districts can be addressed without destroying the whole system.
What about just figuring out what an adequate education is and providing funding just for that?
Some propose that the state should conduct a study of what is an adequate education and estimate how much it costs and simply fund that. No one has asked the question: Adequate for what? Do we need to educate everyone to the level where they can be adequate gardeners? Adequate auto mechanics? Adequate college students? Adequate doctors? Or perhaps even more narrowly, adequate test takers who can pass a high school exit test? Until advocates of adequacy answer "Adequacy for what?" they are asking the public to buy a "pig in a poke."
Another problem with funding "adequacy" is that it usually means "minimum." If adequacy is equivalent to minimum, then an adequate education may mean an equally bad education for all the children of Texas. If it is minimal for some but excellent for others, the system would be unequal and thus subject to the same legal challenges that the state fought over for 20 years. Rather than looking for adequacy, we should figure out the cost of an excellent education for all children and fund that in an equitable manner.
Texas cannot afford to go back 20 years to the days when some children had good schools and others did not, when some paid high property taxes while some communities paid almost nothing at all, and where education was based on where you happened to be born. The same forces that created those unequal conditions are the ones leading the move to destroy the current funding plan. All children deserve better. And our new economies demand it.
IDRA is an independent, non-profit organization that advocates the right of every child to a quality education. For 29 years, IDRA has worked for excellence and equity in education in Texas and across the United States. IDRA conducts research and development activities, creates, implements and administers innovative education programs and provides teacher, administrator, and parent training and technical assistance.