Texas Schools Sue State Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Funding

Last week school districts from across Texas brought a lawsuit to the state, calling its funding system unconstitutional. The lawsuit is being brought to the state by the Texas School Coalition, which is made up of 120 districts that give property tax money to the state under the so-called Robin Hood funding plan, writes April Castroat at the Associated Press.

"The Texas school finance system has reached a crisis stage again," the lawsuit says.

As so many districts are taxing at the maximum allowable rate, the plaintiffs claim that the school property tax has effectively become a statewide property tax, which is unconstitutional in Texas.

The state is "co-opting the school districts' taxing authority, so it's become a de facto state property tax," said Mark Trachtenberg, an attorney for the districts.

The lawsuit also cites the constitutional mandate for an "adequate" education, claiming that the Legislature hasn't put enough money into it.

 "They're failing to provide the resources to provide an adequate education under the state's own standards," attorney John Turner said.

The school finance system is failing to manage with the state's growing student population in the face of increased academic expectations, said Northwest Superintendent Karen G. Rue.

"We are advocating for the funds to do what is necessary to support children in this state. Our board felt strongly that they must join and speak with one voice with other districts in the state so the resources in the state of Texas are identified and provided," said Rue.

"We feel that virtually every school district in the state of Texas is underfunded, some woefully."

The Legislature cut about $1.4 billion in grant programs such as full-day prekindergarten, after-school tutoring and dropout prevention programs, after refusing to pay $4 billion in enrollment growth during the last legislative session despite an estimated growth of about 80,000 students a year, writes Castroat.

The lawsuit claims the massive cuts have resulted in the loss of thousands of teachers and support staff and led many districts to seek waivers allowing bigger classes.

School funding in Texas has long been a grievance. The Legislature has undertaken major reform efforts only when ordered by the courts.

12 15, 2011
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