October 24, 2011
Schools and parents have taken the states of Texas and California to court,
accusing them of violating their own state constitutions because they are not
providing the basic level of education that the constitutions require.
Both states have slashed school funding, and both have created gaping holes
in opportunity for children in many communities by enacting funding systems
that favor wealthier school districts.
On Oct. 10, 2011, the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition (TT&SFC)
filed TT&SFC v. Scott, in state court. Two weeks earlier,
on Sept. 28, the California School Boards Association (CSBA), Association of
California School Administrators, and three representative school districts
filed CSBA, et al., v. State.
While education in all states is vital, these two states enroll about 20%
of U.S. students, enough to impact the whole nation.
Texas Reverses Robin Hood: Take from the Poor, Give to the Rich
The TTSFC petition to the court relies on the earlier Texas
cases, Edgewood and West Orange Cove, and alleges that the latest
state budget is a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor to give to the rich.
Plaintiffs ask the court to declare that the school finance system: violates
the "efficiency" and "suitable provision" parts of the Texas Constitution;
creates an unconstitutional state tax; and, fails to provide legally required "equal
protection" to students in low-wealth districts.
Although the school district plaintiffs vary greatly in size and location,
they all allege that they receive inequitable funding under the current state
funding system and their taxpayers and school children suffer adverse consequences.
For example, the Austin School District has $100 million more to spend than
Fort Worth, although the number of students is about the same and local property
tax rates are exactly the same, according to the plaintiffs.
The group of more than 150 school districts represented by the coalition
continues to grow, and more districts, taxpayers, and parents are expected
join in the coming months.
The non-profit Equity Center is facilitating the development and operation
of the coalition. This case has been expected since the legislative session
ended, and another parallel suit is also anticipated.
California's plaintiffs claim that the 2011-12 state
budget violates the state constitution's "Prop 98" provision and the statutes
implementing Prop 98 by $2.1 billion, thereby underfunding public schools
throughout the state. Voters
passed Proposition 98 in 1988, thereby amending the constitution to guarantee
California public schools---K-12 and community colleges---a certain minimum
level of funding each year. Plaintiffs requested court order would apply to
all districts in the state.
At a press conference, Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco
School District, said his district would use recovered Prop 98 funds to
school days, counter increased class sizes, and reinstate staff development.
Plaintiffs filed their complaint in California Superior Court against the
State of California and the state controller, director of finance, and
superintendent of public instruction.
Parents, students, and school districts have also challenged funding cuts
in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Kansas. Others would like to do the same
in lots of states.
Court orders in New Jersey and North Carolina ordered those states to restore
certain funding, and the Kansas case is preparing for trial. The NC decision
is on appeal.