The following is excerpted from the 1997 book Texas School Finance Reform: An IDRA Perspective by Dr. José Angel Cárdenas, IDRA founder and director emeritus. Many of the challenges that confronted the state then are persistent today.
In May 1994, I recapitulated my 25-year involvement in school finance reform in an article, “Historical Perspectives on Texas School Finance.” In this article I list the six most valuable lessons learned during this period and their importance in a new attempt to move school finance equity from its stalled and incomplete status, particularly in the continued need for an equitable system of funding school facilities.
Between now [May 1994] and September 1, 1995, Texas will find itself in the grip of a new crisis in school finance. The January 26, 1995, court order in Edgewood vs. Meno demands the development of an equitable system for the provisions of funds for school facilities, which parallels a past court order for equity in the maintenance and operation of the schools.
The history of school finance in Texas is replete with similar crises. George Santayana, the American philosopher, said it all when he observed that people ignorant of history were doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
A review of historical events in the continuing saga of school finance reform in Texas provides half a dozen lessons that could be of help in addressing the new crisis in facilities funding, as well as future efforts in the financing of our public schools. The following six lessons emerge from items from IDRA files.
1. The problem is not a new problem. The problem in the financing of Texas schools was a deficiency in the enactment of the Gilmer-Aiken legislation in 1949. By 1968, the Governor’s Committee on Public School Finance (COPSE) called for immediate attention to the problem. The original Rodríguez decision in 1971 brought the problem to a head, but a solution was deferred with the Supreme Court reversal in 1973. Since then, school finance reform has been the highest priority and the least successful issue during each session of the Texas Legislature and the many special sessions in between. The current crisis is not a new one. It is a new manifestation of a crisis that has been around for more than 25 consecutive years.
2. During this 25-year period the financing of Texas schools has been consistently inequitable and inadequate.
3. There has been no shortage of alternatives available to the educational and political leadership of the state.
4. The failure to resolve the problem can be attributed primarily to the failure of the legislature to bite the bullet and do what decency, justice, common sense and the best interests of the state demand that be done.
Instead, the legislature has squandered time and resources in inaction, postponement, studies, expensive Band-Aids and the enactment of emasculating “save-harmless” provisions that have perpetuated the problem.
5. Politically popular positions, such as “No New State Taxes,” have only succeeded in passing the buck to communities that can least afford an additional and inequitable tax burden.
6. Funds for school facilities should have been a part of the reform effort since its beginning.
[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2006 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]