General Information about the West Orange-Cove Ruling

Which school districts are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision?
Each and every school district in the state of Texas – all 1,031 of them – are affected by the decision. The court ruled that the state requirements for financing schools provide insufficient taxing options to allow for “meaningful local discretions” and thus is unconstitutional. The state’s over reliance on local property taxes was seen as contributing to this limited local discretion. It ordered the legislature to devise a new system of school finance for the entire state by June 1.

What does the $1.50 tax cap mean?
In 1993, the legislature created the current school finance system. It set into law a limit or “cap” on how high local property taxes (also called a Maintenance and Operations tax) at $1.50 per $100 of property valuation. The cap did two things: it kept districts from raising school taxes to too high a level, and it helped the state keep the system more equal.

In a previous case, the Supreme Court had warned the legislature that the maximum tax rate could become “a floor as well as a ceiling.” That is, it could cost so much to educate Texas children that districts would have no choice but to tax at or near the maximum rate.

This is precisely what the court said has happened in its recent decision. The ceiling (the tax cap) had become a floor, too, and thus amounted to an unconstitutional statewide property tax because it limited local discretion. This was the primary flaw that the court found in the current system and the one thing it said the legislature must change in the coming special session. Though it criticized other things, no other part of the system was ruled unconstitutional.

Why is this observation about the $1.50 tax cap important? Because opponents of the existing system are expected to try to totally change the current system. They want to do away with recapture, decrease funding for special students, and let the state (rather than districts) decide where money needs to be spent, rather than limit the change to what the court required (providing districts local taxing discretion). Polls indicate that many people agree the system just needs to be funded at a higher overall level.

How does the Supreme Court ruling impact my child?
Nothing will change for this school year (2005-06). The Supreme Court set a date (June 1, 2006) by which the school finance system must be fixed. How the legislature will do that, at this point, is impossible to know. The governor has called a special session to begin on April 17 and, if that fails, another is likely in May. But the court has made it clear that the legislature must adopt a fix to the system by June 1, 2006, so that next year is funded under the new plan.

Whatever happens, the changes made to the school finance system will affect every property owner and taxpayer, every student and parent, every teacher, every school and every district in this state. Many will resist any efforts to increase funding for schools and will instead try to just shift taxes around to pass constitutional muster.

What can I as a parent do?
The court did not rule that funding was inadequate. It ruled that levels of funding, so long as bare minimal standards are met, are legislative questions. In order to see Texas schools get the resources they need to provide an opportunity for every child, parents must be vocal and active. We must make clear that we think that providing merely “adequate” funding for our children is not good enough. Do we want adequate graduates, who will go on to become adequate college students, or adequate employees, or even worse adequate (rather than excellent) doctors, engineers or political leaders?

Links for more information

  • MALDEF statement regarding the ruling: Ruling Abandons Low-wealth Districts and Upholds Glaring Inequities in the School Finance System “More than 16 years after declaring the school finance system unconstitutional in Edgewood I, the Supreme Court of Texas refused to remedy persistent inequalities in the present school funding system. Millions of school children in property-poor school districts across the state face the prospect of even greater inequities in a new system.”
    Read full statement.
  • IDRA statement regarding the ruling: Texas Supreme Court Misses the Point – Texas Must Provide Equity and Excellence for All Students by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. “We are appalled by the Texas Supreme Court’s low standards for what constitutes an adequate education. In ruling that the current levels of funding are adequate, the court has disregarded Texas children.”
    Read full statement
  • Former Judge on School funding cases, Scott McCown, releases statement “As the governor and the legislature move forward to address the needs of public education, it is extremely important to remember that our Constitution sets minimum standards – the least we must do. The governor and the legislature should make sure we make the maximum effort – the most we can do for our children.”
    Read full statement.
  • Brief analysis of the ruling: A Decision Neither Adequate nor Equitable – The Texas Supreme Court Ruling in West Orange-Cove vs. Neeley by Albert Cortez, Ph.D. “By ruling that the state is providing adequate levels of funding to meet its obligation to “make suitable provisions for a general diffusion of knowledge,” the court has put its stamp of approval on low expectations, declaring that schools where 50 percent of students fail state assessments are considered to be performing at acceptable levels.” Read full story.
  • Read the full opinion at Texas Judiciary Online:
  • Analysis of court opinion by West Orange-Cove attorneys.

See other questions and answers about the ruling and related issues