• IDRA Newsletter • February 2006 •

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

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. As a result, millions of school children in property-poor school districts across the state face the prospect of even greater inequities in a new system that will not contain a property tax cap.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) represented the Edgewood Districts*, a group of 22 property-poor school districts, many of which filed the original landmark school finance suit in 1984. With a trial record consisting of 655 findings of fact and 24 conclusions of law based on more than 7,000 exhibits and testimony from dozens of witnesses, the Supreme Court refused to address the issues and, instead, deferred to the legislature’s discretion. Although the Supreme Court found that the state violated the Texas Constitution by forcing districts to tax at the maximum rate, the court failed to address the gross inequities in the system.

“MALDEF is very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said MALDEF president and general counsel Ann Marie Tallman. “This case is not about money but rather about lost educational opportunities for the 2 million-plus students attending schools in property-poor districts. Unfortunately, the court’s decision ill-serves the interests of those children and the future of all Texas residents.”

David Hinojosa, MALDEF staff attorney and lead counsel in the case, added: “Fifty years after Brown vs. Board, our undisputed evidence at trial showed that the quality of education for certain Texas children still suffers as a direct result of which side of the tracks they live on. Despite the glaring disparities between the haves and have-nots, the court refused to confront the issues head on.”

He continued: “The saving grace for our districts was that the Supreme Court did not state that the recapture system needed to be eliminated. With that in mind, there is every reason for the legislature to address the inequities in the system when creating its new school finance plan.”

“While the Supreme Court ruled that the financing system is constitutionally efficient, no one should believe we have a quality school system that can support the economic future of Texas. MALDEF looks forward to working with the legislature to provide a funding system that is fair and equitable for all Texas children,” commented Luis Figueroa, MALDEF legislative staff attorney.

A national non-profit organization founded in 1968, MALDEF promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, higher education scholarships and when necessary, through the legal system. MALDEF is a member of the Texas Latino Education Coalition, along with IDRA.

* The Edgewood Districts consist of the following independent school districts: Edgewood, Brownsville, Edcouch-Elsa, Harlandale, Harlingen, Jim Hogg County, Kenedy, Laredo, La Feria, La Vega, Los Fresnos, Monte Alto, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Raymondville, Roma, San Benito, San Elizario, Socorro, Sharyland, South San Antonio, United, and Ysleta.

Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©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.]