MALDEF RETURNS TO COURT TO DEFEND RIGHTS OF TEXAS SCHOOL CHILDREN
Texas judge reopens case examining Texas' public school finance system after holding early last year that it was unconstitutional and arbitrary
AUSTIN, TX - On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, MALDEF will return to court to demonstrate that the Texas public school finance system remains inequitable and inadequate. In a MALDEF victory for Texas children early last year, Travis County District Court Judge John K. Dietz held that the system was arbitrary, inequitable and inadequate under the Texas Constitution, detailing gross inequities for property-poor school districts and failures of the system for low income and English Language Learner (ELL) children. Last June, before issuing his final judgment, Judge Dietz decided to reopen the evidence and hold a supplementary hearing to examine the effect of legislative changes to the state's educational system that were made after his initial ruling.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "In response to the court's unexceptionable ruling last year, the Texas Legislature chose to administer a band-aid rather than engage in the major surgery required to ensure equity in the state's public school system. We are confident that the court will see through the inadequate legislative changes and once again determine that Texas has much to do before satisfying its own constitution's imperatives in public education."
MALDEF filed the consolidated case, Edgewood Independent School District v. Williams, in December 2012 following substantial cuts to school funding by the Texas Legislature and an increase in curriculum and testing standards for individual students. More than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's 5 million-plus public school students joined the lawsuit. They claimed that financial support provided by the Texas Legislature was inadequate and unfairly distributed after lawmakers voted in 2011 to slash public education funding and educational grant programs by $5.4 billion. Plaintiffs represented by MALDEF argued that the Texas school finance system increased the inequity for low-wealth school districts to pre-1993 levels, forcing those districts to tax at higher rates but collect less revenue compared to higher-wealth school districts. In addition, Plaintiffs showed that arbitrary and inadequate funding for low income and ELL students, as well as the overall insufficient funding for lower-wealth school districts, had stripped Plaintiff school districts of the power to exercise meaningful local control of their taxes. This forced school districts to make unnecessary cuts to their educational programs and tax at or near the $1.17 cap simply to satisfy State mandates.
Judge Dietz ruled in favor of each of the claims brought by MALDEF last February after more than three months of testimony. In his oral ruling, Judge Dietz criticized the State for failing to meet its obligation to provide equitable funding for children in property-poor school districts. He noted that children in property-poor districts do not have substantially equal access to similar revenue at similar tax efforts, that the State is not producing career and college ready students, and that the system arbitrarily and inadequately funds the education of ELL and low income schoolchildren -- paying no attention to their actual educational needs.
David Hinojosa, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF, stated, "The State of Texas cannot attempt to dumb down our constitution with their ill-conceived educational policies and continue to avoid providing the educational opportunities Texas children need to succeed. We are saddened, though confident, that the next three weeks of testimony will show that Texas's school finance system remains unfair and unconstitutional."
Following the February 2013 ruling, the Texas Legislature restored $3.5 billion to public education, reduced high-stakes testing, and changed required graduation plans-- changes the State argues fixed the deficiencies. MALDEF counters that the equity gap closed slightly but still has property-poor districts taxing on average ten cents higher than wealthy districts but receiving about $1,000 less per child. MALDEF further argues that regardless of which graduation plans are in place, all students are still required under law to graduate college and career ready, and the substantial record, coupled with the latest achievement results, show that ELL and low-income students continue to fail at dismal rates. MALDEF argues that the insubstantial 2013 legislative changes have not diminished the rectitude of the prior ruling.
MALDEF represents parents of low income and ELL students attending public schools in Pasadena ISD and Amarillo ISD, and the following low-wealth school districts: Edgewood ISD, Harlingen CISD, La Feria ISD, McAllen ISD, and San Benito CISD. The hearing is expected to last approximately three weeks and begins at 10:00 a.m. CST on Tuesday. MALDEF will present opening statement.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.
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