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Texas School Funding Fight Expands

December 14, 2011

SAN ANTONIO - The legal battle against Texas' school-funding system is heating up. On Tuesday, a coalition of parents and non-wealthy school districts filed suit in a Travis County district court, claiming state education aid is inadequate and unfairly distributed.

Previous lawsuits have challenged the constitutionality of a school-financing system which critics say amounts to a statewide property tax. The new suit calls attention to what attorneys describe as arbitrary funding mechanisms which don't provide for poor students and those learning English.

David Hinojosa, Southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is the lead attorney for the districts.

"Those students are the ones who are struggling most. And so, if we're successful on this claim, all those districts educating low-income and English-language learners would benefit."

Hinojosa says there's an alarming achievement gap in Texas schools - and a funding gap that got substantially worse this year when lawmakers slashed education aid by $5.4 billion.

"How can you hold all the students to the same standards, expect them to meet those standards, but then fund their education so grossly disparately? It's just not only unfair, it's unjust and unconstitutional."

State officials have not commented on any of the lawsuits. Previous court decisions have upheld a constitutional mandate that children from rich and poor districts should have equal access to education funds.

"If you live in this ZIP code, your children are worth more - but if you live in this other ZIP code, your children are worth less. And so, while we don't want to take away from the wealthy districts, we do want to see the system leveled up."

Lawmakers, he says, may have further contributed to the crisis by requiring that all students be "college-ready" and instituting tougher state exams - providing more legal ammunition for those who argue that school funding is inadequate.

For decades, Hinojosa says, the Texas Legislature has been incapable of addressing the state's school-finance system with anything more than what he calls "band-aid solutions." He thinks it will take court intervention to force lawmakers to take politically difficult action, such as finding new revenues - and that's the only way, he believes, that funding can be both fair and adequate.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX