MALDEF Lawsuit: Texas’ School Funding System Unlawfully Shortchanges Many Districts and Students, Including Low Income and English Language Learner Children

Educators, Parents and Community Leaders fully support first statewide adequacy lawsuit filed by MALDEF seeking fair share of funding for all Texas schools

SAN ANTONIO, TX – Today, against the backdrop of the Dr. Jose A. Cardenas Early Childhood Center – located in the school district at the center of MALDEF’s first landmark school finance case, Edgewood v. Kirby, back in the 1980s – MALDEF announced the filing of a major education funding lawsuit against the State of Texas. Along with Edgewood I.S.D., MALDEF represents McAllen Independent School District (I.S.D.), San Benito I.S.D., La Feria I.S.D., three parents from Pasadena I.S.D., and expects to add more plaintiffs in the coming months.

Flanked by Edgewood Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Jose A. Cervantes as well as parents, students, and community leaders,MALDEF's Southwest Regional Counsel David Hinojosa laid out the three key claims made by the Plaintiffs, including the first statewide adequacy claim made on behalf of low income and English Language Learner children. For a summary of the claims, see below.

David Hinojosa stated, "The State has left many Texas children behind by blatantly defying its constitutional duty to fully support their education. Every Texas child should have the opportunity to go to college and this lawsuit will ensure that opportunity."

MALDEF has led the battle for fair school funding in Texas courts for four decades. In our first school finance case, Edgewood v. Kirby, the Texas Supreme Court declared that our Texas Constitution mandates: "children who live in poor districts and children who live in rich districts must be afforded a substantially equal opportunity to have access to educational funds." The Texas educational system has fallen woefully short of this mandate, particularly with respect to providing equal educational opportunity to Latino students who now account for one out of every two students and low income students who account for three out of every five students.

Dr. Jose A. Cervantes stated, "All school districts are facing challenges with the recent budget cuts, but for districts like Edgewood and McAllen, the inequities are patently unfair. The gap of over $1,000 per child translates to over $22,000 per classroom. This is reprehensible."

Yolanda Canales, a plaintiff and parent of a child in the Pasadena Independent School District, added, "It is simply unfair that we are paying higher tax rates, but our schools continue to suffer. My daughter's high school does not have enough books so students don't receive homework. Her classrooms are overcrowded and the teachers are overwhelmed. Something must change and it must change now."

Without adequate funding and resource support, many school districts will continue to suffer from the budget cuts, arbitrary funding mechanisms, and increasing unfunded or underfunded state mandates that have made it all but impossible for these school districts to provide Texas students with a quality education and preparation for college and the job market. With this lawsuit, MALDEF aims to remedy this problem and help create a better, more efficient school system for all Texas students, Latino and non-Latino alike.

Summary of Claims

First, the equity claim alleges that the State has shown inequitable and arbitrary treatment against property-poor school districts in violation of the Texas Constitution, which mandates that the State provide an efficient public school system. Gaps in funding have increased between 2-3 times the amounts authorized in recent school finance cases, forcing property-poor districts to tax much higher than property-rich districts. This claim also alleges that the shift from a formula-based system to an arbitrary measure known as "Target Revenue," compounded by budget cuts, disproportionately affects such property-poor districts.

Second, the adequacy claim, alleges that the State inadequately funds low income and English Language Learner (ELL) students through an arbitrary funding process that does not provide the necessary resources for those students to acquire the quality education that the Texas Constitution demands. After eight years ofTAKS testing, 31% of economically disadvantaged students failed to achieve the minimum standard on all-tests and 42% of ELL students failed. Preliminary results from the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams, which are more rigorous than TAKS, are even worse: on the Algebra I test, 55% of low income students failed, compared to 30% of non-economically disadvantaged; and 79% of ELL students failed, compared to 40% non-ELL students who failed. Furthermore, only 38% of low income students and 5% of ELL students are regarded as being “College Ready” under the State’s definition. .

Third, the tax cap claim alleges that the State has controlled the setting of local tax rates for low wealth districts to the point where such tax regulations has become an unconstitutional statewide ad valotem tax. Because property-poor districts are forced to cap at or near the tax in order to attempt to provide an adequate education, local school districts have lost all meaningful discretion in setting their tax rates. Knowing that eliminating the cap altogether could destroy equity among school districts across the state, this lawsuit will also seek a declaration that the cap remains essential insofar as the Legislature continues to rely on local property values to fund public education.

Click here to view a copy of the complaint

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund