Monday, December 12, 2011
Texas school districts file suit against state
Lewisville, Frisco, Richardson, Plano, Lovejoy, and Sunnyvale ISDs are among those represented in the lawsuit.
As expected, members of the Texas Schools Coalition filed a lawsuit Friday against Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, in state district court claiming the state's education funding system is unconstitutional.
The Texas Schools Coalition is made up of revenue-sharing districts, including plaintiff school districts Lewisville ISD and Frisco ISD. The other plaintiffs are Calhoun County ISD, Abernathy ISD, Aransas County ISD, and Richardson ISD.
Other districts represented in the lawsuit include Plano ISD, Lovejoy ISD, and Sunnyvale ISD. In all, 60 districts are officially part of the lawsuit, though more are expected to join following their respective board meetings.
The districts claim they are not being provided the funding necessary to meet the state's standards.
Critics point to several aspects of school funding that puts districts at a disadvantage, such as $4 billion in education cuts this year, plus a $1.5 billion reduction in grants and special programs for full-day kindergarten, after-school tutoring, and dropout prevention. They say this has led to cutting thousands of teachers and support staff across Texas.
Further, they argue, that the case of West Orange-Cove Consolidated ISD in 2006 ruled that districts must have meaningful ability to use local property tax funds for local enrichment. They say that isn't happening when the money raised is being used just to get by.
In the past, school districts would receive funding based upon their community's taxable values from the previous year. In LISD, for example, the taxable value would increase by $2 billion annually because of economic growth, and the district would receive a portion of the $2 billion. The portion of funds from the $2 billion is known as lag money and has been important for LISD to keep up with inflation and student growth.
But since 2006, the state keeps that lag money.
"The level of state funding has fallen to such a point that many, or even most, school districts must effectively use all of the local funds they can raise just to meet basic education standards," said John Turner, an attorney for Haynes and Boone, LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs. "Local tax dollars raised above a certain level ought to be available for local enrichment and not be used to compensate for funding the state has failed to provide. We will argue that the state has effectively co-opted the taxing capacity of districts, resulting in a de facto state property tax, which is prohibited by the Texas Constitution."
Another questionable component of school finance is the target revenue system in which districts receive a certain amount based on a formula. Critics, however, say that formula doesn't take into account student growth and is inconsistent from one district to the next.
Plaintiffs also claim that while school funding is shrinking, the challenges are mounting. Officials say the state is growing by 80,000 students annually, many with economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. Meanwhile, state standards are being raised with higher assessment and graduation requirements and the implementation of the more challenging end-of-course exams throughout the state.
"On the heels of recent reductions in district services and staff, and as the state introduces a new accountability system, Plano ISD is committed to continue providing the excellent education our community expects and our children deserve," said Plano ISD Superintendent Doug Otto. "Precedent shows that the state only allocates more funding for education as a result of court action."
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