Tools for Action
Equity Means Opportunity for All Children
November 22, 2005, was not the best day for the children of Texas. As the article on Page 1 describes, in the school finance lawsuit appeal, West Orange-Cove vs. Neeley, the Texas Supreme Court held that capping local school property taxes at $1.50 per $100 valuation constitutes a statewide tax and is thereby unconstitutional. But, the court did not use this opportunity to address the underlying problem of the state’s failure to fund its share of the school costs. Texas has undermined gains in both educational equity and quality by reducing public funding for public education. In the last five years alone, Texas has reduced its share of school funding from roughly 45 percent to 38 percent. But the Supreme Court merely took note of shifting conditions, stating that while it did not find the system unconstitutional, “it remains to be seen whether the system’s predicted drift toward constitutional inadequacy will be avoided by legislative reaction to widespread calls for changes.”
As the court’s ruling now becomes a responsibility for legislators, the role of concerned educators, parents, community members and businesspeople in making sure that Texas takes on those changes could not be more important.
A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing
Developing Leaders – IDRA is supporting the development of student literacy and leadership in school finance in partnership with community-based organizations and schools. In recent interviews with students in the Rio Grande Valley, students identified a clear connection between resources and student outcomes and are voicing their concerns through public presentations and plans for local action.
Conducting Research – In Texas and many other states, lawmakers are investigating ways to define and fund what is generally misnamed an “adequate” education. IDRA is conducting the policy research to ensure that policymakers and the public recognize the important ways that proposals for adequacy conflict with mandates for equity, as these approaches set the bar at a minimally adequate standard for many, while locally subsidized excellent schooling becomes the province of a privileged few. (See article by Al Kauffman in the March 2004 issue of the IDRA Newsletter, http://www.idra.org/resource-center/equity-and-adequacy-concepts-as-considered-in-school-finance-court-cases/.)
Informing Policy – In addition to providing expert testimony that informed West Orange-Cove vs. Neeley, IDRA has provided an analysis of the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to policymakers, school districts and the public. Beyond in-person presentations and print publications, IDRA is disseminating its analyses of school finance policy to education stakeholders through podcasts, webcasts and listservs.
Engaging Communities – Through local and statewide forums, such as the recent Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada – Statewide Summit on School Holding Power, convened by IDRA and the League of United Latin American Citizens in November 2005, IDRA is engaging local leaders and school districts in promoting school finance equity as a foundation of healthy, effective school systems with the means to ensure that all students succeed and graduate.
What You Can Do
Get informed by checking out the full opinion in West Orange-Cove vs. Neeley. The decision can be found at http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/Historical/2005/nov/041144.htm. For an overview of the decision and statements from various education stakeholders see: http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/courtruling.asp. For additional analysis of the Supreme Court ruling and links to related resources, check out the Center for Public Policy Priorities excellent web site at http://www.cppp.org.
For a cross-state view of school finance equity issues, readers may want review the latest edition of The Education Trust’s annual Funding Gap report posted at http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/rdonlyres/31D276EF-72E1-458A-8C71-E3D262A4C91E/0/FundingGap2005.pdf.
Get involved by joining the Texas Latino Education Coalition’s growing action network at http://www.texans4fairfunding.org. You can also join and/or support TLEC partner organizations in Texas – including, among others, the Mexican American School Board Members Association, the National Council of La Raza, League of United Latin American Citizens, Texas State Office, Texas Association for Chicanos in Higher Education, and the Texas Federation of Teachers – or their national networks or chapters in other states.
Get results by becoming a local resource to your school, board, community group or other parents on how various school finance policies will impact children in your community, district and state. For an analysis of Texas House and Senate proposals, see http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/proposed.asp, where resources have been posted for members of the Texas Latino Education Coalition and the general public. To receive regular policy updates on 2006 developments, you can also see http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/updates.asp.
Nationwide, voters identify education as a top priority and are willing to pay more to support an educational system that reflects greater equity and yields better results. If you agree with these views and believe that all children must have access to an excellent – not minimally adequate – education, voice your concerns and mobilize others to join you. You will find resources at http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/whatyoucando.asp.
Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. 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.]