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EDUCATION JUSTICE - ELC's National Program August 11, 2015
 
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AMICI URGE TEXAS SUPREME COURT TO AFFIRM STATE'S SCHOOL FUNDING IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Austin, Texas - On August 11, 2015, several Texas organizations and the national Education Law Center (ELC) filed a friend of the court, or amicus, brief in support of the state's economically disadvantaged and English Language Learner (ELL) students in the Texas Supreme Court, urging the Court to affirm the trial court's ruling in Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition v. Williams.

The Texas-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, Mexican-American School Board Members Association (MASBA), San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Texas Appleseed, Texas Association for Bilingual Education, Texas HOPE, and Texas NAACP joined ELC on the amicus brief. The national law firm of Paul, Weiss LLP, provided pro bono assistance to author the brief with ELC.

The amicus brief provides the Texas Supreme Court with the national perspective on several critical issues raised in the appeal. Among other points, the brief explains that:

  1. Courts nationwide give substantial weight to educational inputs–such as funding of and access to high quality pre-K programs–in addition to student outcomes in determining whether state school funding systems are adequate under their state constitutions, which the trial court did in this case. On this point, the amicus brief refutes the State Attorney General's (AG's) argument that the courts should wholly ignore inputs.
  2. Adequate school funding leads to better educational outcomes for economically disadvantaged, at-risk and ELL students. A strong body of empirical studies shows that increases in funding designed to ensure adequate resources improves outcomes for students with additional educational needs, and courts across the country have recognized this reality. In prior rulings, the Texas Supreme Court itself has recognized that increased funding improves educational outcomes.
  3. The trial court in this case properly analyzed the Texas school finance system as applied to economically disadvantaged students and ELLs in holding the system inadequate and unsuitable for those student groups, consistent with the rulings of many state courts across the country faced with similar evidence of deprivations of essential education resources and outcomes. The State AG has argued that economically disadvantaged and ELL students do not have an independent right to an adequate, suitable, and efficient school finance system.

"In a state where 52% of all students in public education are Hispanic, it is paramount that the adequacy of the Texas education system lead to effective and measurable outcomes, or else the Hispanic community of Texas will be relegated to second-class citizen status finding itself in a game of socioeconomic catch-up," said Joe Cardenas, chairman of Texas HOPE and a classroom teacher himself at Louise, Texas. "This amicus brief helps highlight the need for the courts to ensure our legislature fulfills that paramount duty."

"Our friends in other states have continuously asked why a state as large, wealthy, and great as Texas refuses to provide economically disadvantaged, at-risk and ELL students with adequate school funds leading to improved educational outcomes. That's a good question which we hope our Texas Supreme Court will fairly decide," stated MASBA Executive Director Sam Guzman.

"ELC is pleased to support the plaintiffs and schoolchildren in Texas by filing this brief," said Molly Hunter of ELC. "Texas is a relatively wealthy state that systematically under funds its schools broadly, and distributes the limited funds it does provide in a highly inequitable manner that denies vulnerable students the opportunity to learn." See "Is School Funding Fair?"

"In a state where we brag about the "Texas Miracle" it is problematic that we continue to underfund our public education system," said Gary Bledsoe of Texas NAACP.  "How can we expect to compete with other states and countries if we do not do all we can to ensure that our most vulnerable children have the necessary resources to be properly educated."

"As America's first Hispanic business organization founded in San Antonio, in 1929, we know that education has been and will always continue to be our guarantee for growing our member's and our state's economy," said Ramiro A. Cavazos, President and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Economically disadvantaged school children in Texas deserve better school financing. As the largest growing group in Texas, they represent our future workforce, our future entrepreneurs, and are vital to our state's bi-national commerce and trade efforts. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce firmly stands with our partners in this case and applauds their efforts on all fronts."

Background: After the state legislature and governor cut funding for Texas public schools by $5.4 billion in 2011, a number of plaintiff groups filed separate cases against Texas officials and the State Board of Education. The court consolidated these cases under the caption Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition v. Williams.

More than 600 Texas school districts educating 75% of the state's five million public school students joined the cases. The school district and parent plaintiffs are represented by attorneys for the Equity Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and others.

After the trial court heard evidence in nearly four months of testimony, it declared the current Texas school funding system unconstitutional on August 28, 2014. The state appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and the parties are in the process of filing their briefs. Oral argument is scheduled for September 1, 2015.

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

mhunter@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 19

 
     
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