Monday, January 09, 2012

There's got to be a better way to finance education

Houston Chronicle
Friday, January 6, 2012

The state of Texas is facing multiple lawsuits over school finance as it heads into the New Year.

It's not as if the litigation was totally unexpected.

School district administrators from across the state were in Austin last legislative session begging the Legislature to address the woefully inadequate public school finance situation.

Not only did state lawmakers fail to address the problems, they cut $5.3 billion from public education and failed to provide additional funding for the 80,000 new students who are added to the school rolls each year.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the state conducts business if school districts are regularly forced to spend their money to take the state to court to do right by schoolchildren.

The latest flurry of lawsuits against the state over school finance is the sixth time the issue has landed in court since the 1989 Texas Supreme Court ruling in the landmark Edgewood v. Kirby lawsuit.

The first lawsuit filed this time around was brought by low- and medium-wealth districts that contend the state's funding formula is inequitable.

The second suit was filed by higher-wealth districts that claim the Legislature has failed to adequately fund public education.

The third lawsuit, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, contends the state's public education funding system is inequitable for all students and inadequate for English-language learners and low-income students.

And the state's largest school districts filed the fourth lawsuit.

It is unfortunate taxpayers have had to resort to taking state officials to court to fix the problem.

State lawmakers have known for years that the 2006 so-called margins tax, which allowed a broad-based business tax to replace property taxes, was not working, but they did nothing about it.

They allowed the shortfall in revenue to expand until it prompted heavy cuts in public education and forced thousands of teacher layoffs, staff cuts and reductions in many programs.

In the process, many school districts have been forced to set their property tax rates at the maximum allowed by law just to be able to balance this budget.

The state keeps setting the accountability bar higher and higher for public education but cuts funding. State officials boast they were able to balance the state budget without raising taxes, but in doing so they forced school districts to finance lawsuits to take the state to court to get it to do the right thing.

It is unfair and unjust.

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