• IDRA Newsletter • March 1995
In January of 1995, to the dismay of poor school districts in Texas and of education advocacy groups, the Texas Supreme Court handed down a decision that all but ended 25 years of a long-standing fight to achieve funding equity in Texas. The court upheld Senate Bill 7 as constitutional under the Texas Constitution and in effect declared that the state’s funding system is equal enough. In response, IDRA released a declaration, “Children First,” along with the support of more than 70 individuals and organizations. Today, school funding is making headlines as the Texas governor and legislature debate alternative property tax proposals and related measures. The declaration reprinted below outlines our commitment to the creation of a truly equitable funding system.
On January 30, 1995, the Texas Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling on the Edgewood vs. Meno school funding case. In its ruling, the court stated that “it is apparent from the court’s opinions that we have recognized that an efficient system (of public education) does not require equality of access to revenue at all levels…The state’s duty to provide [school] districts with substantially equal access to revenue applies only to the provision of funding for a general diffusion of knowledge…As long as efficiency is maintained [with efficiency defined as supporting a minimum or basic program] it is not unconstitutional for districts to supplement their program with local funds, even if such funds are unmatched [not equalized] by the state…”
Advocates for equitable educational opportunities for children are appalled by the Texas Supreme Court’s view of the issues presented and respectfully disagree with their position. As eloquently summarized by Justice Spector in her dissenting opinion:
This case is about a court that has come full circle. Just six years ago, faced with gross inequities in the school financing system, we unanimously decided that every school district must have similar revenues for similar tax effort. Today’s cobbled-together opinion rejects that mandate, and instead sanctions dissimilar revenues for similar tax effort. This holding is not based on any matters tried in the district court. Instead, it is based on the previously rejected premise that the state’s constitutional responsibility is satisfied by providing most school children with the very least, and the favored few with the best that money can buy. Because I believe this doctrine has no place in the field of public education, nor in the jurisprudence of this case, I dissent.
While recognizing that the Texas Supreme Court has the prerogative of issuing legal opinions, it is the prerogative of free citizens to voice their own opinions concerning the acts of political bodies and the soundness of their actions and decisions. Our perspectives on the issue include the following:
- Education is a state responsibility according to Article VII of the Texas Constitution: “It shall be the duty of the legislature to make suitable provisions for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public schools.” We believe that responsibility includes ensuring access to equitable funding for all students attending Texas public schools.
- Our opposition to the court’s ruling stems from clear evidence that there remain vast differences in district property wealth and an understanding that these differences will perpetuate gross inequalities in the school taxes and the money available to educate students in property rich and property poor communities;
- We believe that the Texas Supreme Court erred in limiting state responsibility to the provision of an equalized inferior education for all students. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Spector stated that the system sanctioned by the decision will allow wealthy districts to expend $6,146 while the poorest districts will have access to only $3,608 at identical tax efforts, amounting to a difference of $50,760 per classroom; and
- We disagree with the court’s proposition that unequal taxes for Texas citizens are legally acceptable. According to the record, the state’s wealthiest school districts can tax themselves at $1.22 to fund a “basic” educational program while the state’s poorest districts must tax themselves at a rate of $1.31 for the same result, a tax disparity of 9 cents.
In contrast to the Texas Supreme Court, we believe that:
- As the district court noted, all children are the state’s children and thus should have equitable access to educational opportunities;
- The demands of the workplace and skills needed to be full and productive citizens require access to more than a minimum education;
- Justice is not served when the court endorses the concept of superior education for some citizens while relegating others to a so-called “equalized” inferior one, even when the commissioner of education testifies that “our present accreditation criteria at the acceptable level…does not match up with what the real world requirements are”; and
- Since local districts are required to provide grounds, buildings, furniture and equipment and since districts are currently required to bear this burden totally on their own, and since the ability to shoulder the load is entirely dependent upon unequal district property tax bases, the legislature has a moral and legal obligation to equitably fund school facilities.
For these reasons we hereby declare that we reject the high court’s judgment and remain committed to working for the creation of a truly equitable funding system that provides equitable and high quality educational opportunities for all Texas students; one which provides all our citizens with the skills required for them to be full and productive members of our society. We do concur with the majority opinions’ closing comment that despite their ruling, Texas can and must do better. Justice and morality require it, and our economic survival as a state demands it.
Organizations and individuals who endorsed the “Children First” declaration agreeing that children are first in our consideration of equalizing our schools include:
Alamo Reading Council
American Civil Liberties Union – San Antonio Chapter
Asociacion Latino Americana de Salud [Mental] (ALAS)
Broaddus Independent School District
Canutillo Independent School District
Carver Community Cultural Center
Corporate Fund for Children
Dickinson Independent School District
Fabens Independent School District
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)
Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA)
Kenedy Independent School District
Latin American Research and Service Agency
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of Texas –
Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
League of United Latin America Citizens (LULAC)
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
McMurry University School of Education
NAACP – San Antonio Branch
National Council of La Raza
National Latino Children’s Agenda
San Antonio Area Association for Bilingual Education
Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP)
Texas Association for Bilingual Education
Texas Federation of Teachers
William Acosta, MSW/ACSW, JD
Palmira A. Arellano
Virginia D. Cantú
Diana L. Carbajal
Dorcas I. De Soto
Alfredo R. Flores
Jose A. Hernandez
Raquel Quiroz González
Lourdes Garcia Jones
Frederick J. Kaufman
Arcadia H. López, Ed.D.
Reeve Love, Ph.D.
Jed B. Maebius, Jr.
Dr. Robert Medrano
Dr. Ginger Metz
Hubert J. Miller, Ph.D.
José R. Mondragón, M.S.W.
Jaime B. Ornelas
Alan R. Shoho
Rolando Gonzales Teviño
Carol E. White
[©1995, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1995 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.]