MALDEF SECURES COURT VICTORY ON BEHALF OF CHILDREN IN TEXAS SCHOOL FINANCE CASE
Court Holds The State’s Current System Unconstitutional; Ruling Details Gross Inequities and Failures of the System for Low Income and English Language Learner Children
AUSTIN, TX - After more than three months of testimony, Travis County District Court Judge John K. Dietz announced his ruling from the bench, holding that the Texas public school finance system is arbitrary, inequitable and inadequate under the Texas Constitution and that low-wealth school districts lack local control over their tax rates. His ruling upholds the claims brought by MALDEF and brings the Texas educational system closer to providing equal educational opportunities for all students, including low-income and English-language learner children and those educated in low-property wealth school districts.
In his oral ruling, Judge Dietz criticized the State for failing to meet its obligation to provide equitable funding for children in property-poor school districts. He noted that children in property-poor districts do not have access to substantially equal access to similar revenue at similar tax efforts.
Judge Dietz also detailed the failures of the system for low-income and English-language learner ("ELL") children. Judge Dietz noted the tremendous growth of these student groups across Texas and the greater challenges they bring to Texas schools, especially in light of the increased academic standards. He stated “the miracle and promise of education is unlocking the potential of every child as you find them.” He also noted that the State is not producing career-ready and college-ready students and ruled the system inadequate for all schoolchildren.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, “This afternoon's decision provides hope that Texas might one day actually invest adequately and fairly in the education of all its children. Given the size and growth of Texas, our entire nation must work to ensure that the state of Texas responds to this decision by acting immediately to fix its broken school-finance scheme.”
“The State of Texas set up this recipe for disaster by shortchanging the education of students in low-wealth districts and cutting funding in the face of a growing population of high-need students and increasing standards and mandates,” said David Hinojosa, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF. “Today’s ruling is a victory for Texas school children and the future of Texas. We now call upon the Legislature to do what is right by investing in the students and ensuring they all have access to a high quality education.”
The consolidated case, Edgewood Independent School District v. Williams, was initially filed in December 2011. More than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's 5 million-plus public school students joined the lawsuit, claiming financial support provided by the Texas Legislature is inadequate and unfairly distributed after lawmakers voted in 2011 to slash public education funding and educational grant programs by $5.4 billion.
The Court also declared the school finance system unconstitutional by not providing low-wealth school districts discretion in setting their tax rates. The Court found that school districts, like those represented by MALDEF, are forced to tax at the maximum rate because of the increased mandates. The Court held in favor of the other school district plaintiffs' claims as well, on the grounds of equity, adequacy and meaningful discretion. The Court, however, rejected the claims of the Intervenors, including the Texas Association of Business, which argued that other parts of the educational system, such as the lack of teacher merit pay, were the cause of the failures in the system. The Court agreed with MALDEF, stating that such claims are important but entail political questions better reserved for the legislature.
MALDEF and the Edgewood Independent School District first partnered in a fair school funding suit against Texas in the foundational 1984 case, Edgewood v. Kirby. Since then, MALDEF, Edgewood and other low-wealth school districts, have worked together on four other lawsuits arguing for equity in educational opportunity in Texas. In Edgewood v. Kirby, the Texas Supreme Court declared that the 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 to low income students, who account for three out of every five students.
MALDEF counsel included Hinojosa and staff attorneys Marisa Bono and Rebecca Couto. Roger Rice and Miguel Perez-Vargas of META served as co-counsel and Maribel Hernandez Rivera of the law firm of Fried Frank provided pro bono assistance.
CLICK HERE for a presentation of MALDEF’s arguments.
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: www.maldef.org.