DALLAS — More than 100 school districts in Texas have passed board resolutions to join a promised legal challenge seeking to reconfigure the state’s system for financing public education.
The Equity Center, a nonprofit advocacy group that represents 690 of the 1,021 school districts in Texas, said it intends to file a lawsuit in state district court by the end of October.
The suit will challenge the constitutionality of the current funding formula for public education, developed after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the system then in place amounted to an unconstitutional statewide property tax.
Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, said the Texas method of allocating state aid to local schools is unfair and inequitable. He said the 2011 Legislature failed to restructure the school funding system when it became obvious a business tax was bringing in billions less a year than expected.
“We believe litigation is the only way to ensure taxpayer equity and a quality education for Texas children,” Pierce said.
The Texas Legislature earlier this year amended the state educational funding formula to provide districts with $4 billion less in state spending than would have been required over the fiscal 2012-13 budget cycle, as part of an overall 8.1% cut in state spending from fiscal 2010-11.
In a letter sent to districts on Aug. 26, Pierce said the state’s funding formula is meaningless if it can be altered to fit the spending level developed by a legislative conference committee.
“Under our [state] constitution, if a legislative scheme has no rational basis, it is unconstitutional,” Pierce said. “This is a claim that has not been addressed by our Supreme Court because no funding scheme has ever been so irrational.”
Pierce said the final list of plaintiffs to the suit will be released next week. Those that have agreed officially to join the suit include the San Antonio Independent School District, South San Antonio ISD, Greenville ISD, Lufkin ISD, Hutto ISD, Taylor ISD and Elgin ISD.
Lufkin ISD superintendent Roy Knight said 85% of Texas schools receive more money from the state than does his East Texas district. “We’ve literally robbed from the poor so the wealthy can keep more of theirs,” he said.
Lufkin board president Trent Ashby said trustees voted Sept. 14 to join the suit in a bid to get lawmakers to acknowledge the problems. “There’s an inherent inequity in the current funding system, so the board action was really to compel the Legislature to act and try to bring some fairness back,” he said.