DALLAS – Attorneys representing a group of Texas parents filed the fifth in a series of lawsuits Friday seeking to have the state’s public education system declared unconstitutional.
Unlike four similar suits filed earlier, the latest one questions how education dollars are spent rather than whether state aid is allocated fairly to the state’s 1,025 school districts.
The suit, filed in Austin’s 200th District Court like the previous four, contends that the current system does not meet the state constitutional requirement for an efficient public education system.
Plaintiffs include five families across the state with school-age children, and Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, or TREE, a new educational group promoting school choice that was formed by three Austin-area entrepreneurs.
In a statement, TREE said the suit was filed to ensure funding equity for students, not school districts.
“Litigation supported by TREE is targeting how the system treats the children – a child’s access to an efficient and equitable system – rather than how the system treats government agencies fighting over money,” the group said.
“A constitutionally efficient system must put student interests before the interests of adults and bureaucracies,” it said.
Lead attorney Chris Diamond said the plaintiffs are seeking to intervene in the funding law suit filed by the Fort Bend Independent School District and 62 other districts. All five actions are likely to be combined into a single case by Judge John Dietz.
“Our suit asks the court to decide whether the current system is efficient as required by the Texas Constitution,” Diamond said. “We believe the system does not meet that requirement.”
Article 7 of the state constitution requires the Legislature to “establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Diamond said increased state funding over the past 13 years, despite a cut in the fiscal 2012-2013 budget, has not resulted in better student achievement.
“If someone is ready to argue that our system of schools is cost effective, I believe Texans are ready to challenge that notion,” he said.
The growing popularity of public charter schools in the state is an indictment of the state of public education in Texas, Diamond said.
“The fact that we have media reports of nearly 60,000 children stuck on waiting lists for charter schools, with parents unable to pull their kids out of a school they don’t believe meets their kids’ needs, makes it clear that the system is not treating families equitably,” Diamond said.
Austin energy businessman James Jones said he was inspired to found TREE after watching “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary about inner-city students seeking to enroll in public charter schools.
“You can’t watch 'Waiting for Superman’ and not want to do something to help families with kids stuck in failing schools,” Jones said. “Imagine if a parent didn’t think their child’s physician was meeting their kid’s needs and the law made it nearly impossible for them to change doctors.”
Kent Grusendorf, a former chairman of the House Education Committee as well as a former member of the State Board of Education, heads the school advocacy group.