DALLAS — A coalition of 63 Texas school districts, including some of the largest in the state, filed a lawsuit Dec. 22 contending the current system for financing public education is unconstitutional.
It was the fourth such suit to be filed since October. The roughly 500 school district plaintiffs in the four cases encompass more than 3.3 million students, or some 60% of the total public school enrollment in Texas.
The four cases are expected to be combined in a single action for a trial in fall 2012.
David Thompson and Philip Fraissinet of Thompson & Horton LLP filed the case in Travis County state district court.
Lead plaintiff in the latest suit is the Fort Bend Independent School District near Houston.
Other plaintiffs include the Dallas Independent School District, the Houston Independent School District, the Austin Independent School District and the Fort Worth Independent School District.
Thompson said plaintiffs also include smaller urban and rural school districts from around the state. The plaintiffs have a total enrollment of 1.5 million students, he said.
Thompson said the school trustees in the suit believe the Legislature established high academic standards without giving local districts the resources needed to accomplish the goals.
The school funding system does not give districts the discretion to set the local tax rate, he said, and the method of allocating state funds to local districts is inequitable and arbitrary.
“Our goal is to benefit all school districts and their students by requiring the Texas Legislature to establish an adequate, rational and equitable funding system actually tied to the high standards it has set for all students, rather than simply leveling down to fit funds available,” Thompson said. “It is a problem of statewide magnitude.”
The funding system under attack was developed by the Legislature in 2005 after the Texas Supreme Court said the method then in place was in effect a statewide property tax, which is prohibited by the state constitution.
The funding law that resulted from that litigation put a cap on local property taxes with the lost revenue to be replaced through a state business tax. That levy had never brought in the revenue that lawmakers anticipated, which resulted in a $5.4 billion cut in state education aid for fiscal 2012 and 2013.
The Round Rock Independent School District joined the Thompson lawsuit in an effort to get rid of a dysfunctional school finance system, according to superintendent Jesús Chávez.
“From our perspective, the finance system is broken, and we’ve been saying that for the last two or three years,” he said.
Thompson said the plaintiff districts are aware the 2011 Legislature faced a revenue shortfall because state collections did not met expectations.
“But our state cannot use the difficulty of these challenges as an excuse to fail to live up to the constitutional duty placed on our Legislature to provide an adequate, equitable and rational school-funding system that is not funded by a state property tax,” he said.