MALDEF CALLS FIRST WITNESS TO THE STAND IN TEXAS SCHOOL FINANCE CASE: SUPERINTENDENT ANTONIO LIMON
MALDEF Seeking Equal Funding for All Texas Students, Including Low Income and English Language Learner Children
AUSTIN, TX – MALDEF has been a relentless advocate for equal educational opportunity for almost three decades, and it is once again before a Texas court in a fight to reform the state’s school finance system. MALDEF and the Edgewood Independent School District first partnered in a fair school funding suit against Texas in the 1984 case, Edgewood v. Kirby. Since then, they, and other low-wealth school districts, have worked together on four other lawsuits arguing for equity in educational opportunity in Texas, the last of which was decided in 2005.
“This suit focuses on helping the school children hurt the most by the State’s arbitrary school funding system, those in property-poor schools and our most vulnerable children,” said David Hinojosa, Regional Counsel for MALDEF. “It is the first in Texas to argue that the shallow funding for low-income children and students learning English as a second language is harming their educational opportunities.”
In Edgewood v. Kirby, the Texas Supreme Court declared that the Texas Constitution mandates: “children who live in poor districts and children who live in rich districts must be afforded a substantially equal opportunity to have access to educational funds.” The Texas educational system has fallen woefully short of this mandate, particularly with respect to providing equal educational opportunity to Latino students who now account for one out of every two students, and to low income students, who account for three out of every five students.
Summary of Claims
First, the equity claim alleges that the State has shown inequitable and arbitrary treatment against property-poor school districts in violation of the Texas Constitution, which mandates that the State provide an efficient public school system. Gaps in funding have increased between 2-3 times the amounts authorized in recent school finance cases, forcing property-poor districts to tax much higher than property-rich districts. This claim also alleges that the shift from a formula-based system to an arbitrary measure known as “Target Revenue,” compounded by budget cuts, disproportionately affects such property-poor districts.
Second, the adequacy claim alleges that the State inadequately funds low income and English Language Learner (ELL) students through an arbitrary funding process that does not provide the necessary resources for those students to acquire the quality education that the Texas Constitution demands. After eight years of TAKS testing, 31 percent of economically disadvantaged students failed to achieve the minimum standard on all-tests and 42 percent of ELL students failed. Preliminary results from the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams, which are more rigorous than TAKS, are even worse: on the Algebra I test, 55 percent of low income students failed, compared to 30 percent of non-economically disadvantaged; and 79 percent of ELL students failed, compared to 40 percent non-ELL students who failed. Furthermore, only 38 percent of low income students and 5 percent of ELL students are regarded as being “College Ready” under the State’s definition. With this lawsuit, MALDEF aims to remedy this problem and help create a better, more efficient school system for all Texas students, Latino and non-Latino alike.
Third, the tax cap claim alleges that the State has controlled the setting of local tax rates for low wealth districts to the point where such tax regulations have become an unconstitutional statewide ad valorem tax. Because property-poor districts are forced to cap at or near the tax in order to attempt to provide an adequate education, local school districts have lost all meaningful discretion in setting their tax rates. Knowing that eliminating the cap altogether could destroy equity among school districts across the state, this lawsuit will also seek a declaration that the cap remains essential insofar as the Legislature continues to rely on local property values to fund public education.
A copy of the complaint can be accessed here.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," 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.