Educational Funding – Fighting for our Students and Schools

An Update on the School Finance Lawsuit

Last October, the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees voted to enter into a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the school finance system in Texas. As many of you are aware, school districts have had their funding cut significantly (approximately $5 billion), and this is the first time in our state’s recent history that the funding per pupil in the state has decreased.  All the while, the legislature continues to add requirements regarding testing and accountability standards.

Fort Bend ISD, along with other districts in the state, believes that the current Texas school finance system is failing to live up to its mandate to provide adequate and equitable funding for the growing number of students statewide. Texas public school enrollment increases each year by approximately 80,000 students, and the needs of the students in the state only continue to increase.  For instance, 60% of the students in Texas today are economically disadvantaged and more than 17% are Limited English Proficient. In Fort Bend ISD, the student population of economically disadvantaged and Limited English Proficient students has increased by 45% over the last ten years and continues to grow.

Initially, there were four groups of challengers to the system – the Fort Bend Group representing more than 1.8 million students, the Equity Center group comprised of 400 districts with low property wealth per student, the Coalition of Revenue Contributing Schools group comprised of Chapter 41 districts, and four districts and a group of parents represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).  Since those initial filings, two additional lawsuits have been filed – a lawsuit by a group of interveners who have argued that the system should be relieved of onerous mandates, and another suit from the charter school’s association which asserts the unconstitutionality of the funding system.  Each of the lawsuits will be heard collectively.

Since this lawsuit is against the state of Texas, the suit was filed in Travis County. Opening arguments are scheduled to begin in October in the 200th District Court and will continue through January 2013.

For background, the original distribution formula was created during the 1980s and has been modified numerous times to comply with legislative changes and previous school finance lawsuits.  The constitutionality of the school funding formula has been challenged many times in the past, most recently in 2005.  The Court found that the Texas legislature over-relied on local property taxes, left local school districts without meaningful discretion over local tax rates, and was operating a state property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution.

In summary, the state has failed to live up to its responsibility to adequately and equitably fund public education.  The standards and requirements are increasing, and School Boards do not have much discretion in implementing programs and initiatives that are best for students at the local level.  I encourage our community to stay tuned for the outcome of the lawsuit and to let your legislators know how you feel about the educational funding issue we have in Texas.

Tracy Hoke
Chief Financial Officer