K-12 public schools in Texas enroll 4.7 million students, with 49% in poverty, 15% learning English, and 66% minorities, and annual expenditures of more than $39 billion. (Most recent NCES data).
In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court held that school districts must have "substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar levels of tax effort." In a 2005 decision, the court found the state school funding system unconstitutional. These litigations led to improvements in the state’s funding system.
In 2011, Texas cut K-12 funding by $5.4 billion, and over 600 school districts filed cases claiming the funding system has become inequitable, inadequate, and unconstitutional.
In 2012-13, the state trial court heard evidence in the most recent Texas school finance case, and ruled in favor of plaintiffs from the bench in February, concluding that the current funding system violates the state constitution. The court also ruled against charter school proponents who intervened.
In 1989, in Edgewood Independent Sch. Dist. v. Kirby (Edgewood I), the Texas Supreme Court held that the state constitution’s education article requires that school districts have "substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar levels of tax effort." The court found that the state was not meeting this standard, and reached the same conclusion again two years later, in Edgewood II. In response to the litigation, the state enacted legislation to redistribute tax revenue from high-property-wealth to low-property-wealth districts, but the court found in1992, in Edgewood III, that this was essentially a state property tax, which was prohibited by another section of the state constitution. A subsequent bill that allowed more local discretion was found constitutional in Edgewood IV, in 1995.
In 2005, in Neeley v. West Orange-Cove Indep. Sch. Dist., the state supreme court held that changed circumstances deprived districts of meaningful discretion and, therefore, imposed an unconstitutional state property tax. The court also held that the state’s education finance system did not yet violate the constitutional adequacy, efficiency, and suitability requirements, despite its recognition of glaring funding inequities, substandard facilities, and other educational shortcomings. The court wrote that the school finance system displayed deficiencies that could in time render it unconstitutional under the education article.
In 2011, Texas cut K-12 funding by $5.4 billion, and over 600 school districts filed cases claiming the funding system had become inequitable, inadequate, and unconstitutional. First to file, the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition (TTSFC) petitioned the state court, in TTSFC v. Scott, and alleged that the new state budget was a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor to give to the rich. Plaintiffs, represented by Gray & Becker, asked the court to declare that the school finance system: violates the "efficiency" and "suitable provision" requirements of the Texas Constitution; creates an unconstitutional state tax; and, fails to provide legally required "equal protection" to students in low-wealth districts.
Other plaintiff coalitions filed cases involving common issues of law and fact and the same subject matter; these were consolidated with TTSFC for discover and trial. On behalf of various students, parents, and school districts, MALDEF filed Edgewood v. Scott, Thompson & Horton filed Fort Bend ISD v. Scott, and Haynes and Boone filed Calhoun County ISD v. Scott.
Plaintiffs’ petitions relied on the earlier Edgewood and West Orange-Cove cases and claimed that although the school district plaintiffs vary in size and location, they receive inequitable funding under the current system and their school children and taxpayers suffer adverse consequences. Some plaintiffs alleged that Texas school funding does not align with the number of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and under serves students learning English and students with disabilities.
The trial concluded in 2013, with State District Court Judge Dietz declaring that the Texas school funding system violates the Texas Constitution. The court also ruled against two sets of charter intervenors, who asked for unlimited charters, among other changes.
In 2006, plaintiff interveners revived a longstanding case, U.S. v. Texas, alleging that the State was not meeting its obligations under the EEOA to educate EL students. In 2010, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the evidence presented at trial did not establish that students’ rights were violated or that the state caused the claimed violation. The 5th Circuit remanded the case, instructing the trial court to determine "the cause of [EL] student failure and how best to remedy it." Recognizing "that [EL secondary] student performance is alarming," the court stated that joining local school districts as defendants on remand would allow the court to better determine which entities may be liable for violating the rights of EL students under the EEOA.
MALDEF and META are co-counsel to the plaintiff intervenors in this case.
Recognizing that a "general diffusion of knowledge" is “essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people,” the education clause of Texas's state constitution requires the legislature to "establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools." Texas Const. art. 7, § 1.
In Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby (Edgewood I), the Texas Supreme Court concluded:
“Efficiency does not require a per capita distribution, but it also does not allow concentrations of resources in property-rich school districts that are taxing low when property-poor districts that are taxing high cannot generate sufficient revenues to meet even minimum standards. There must be a direct and close correlation between a district's tax effort and the educational resources available to it; in other words, districts must have substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar levels of tax effort. 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. Certainly, this much is required if the state is to educate its populace efficiently and provide for a general diffusion of knowledge statewide.” 777 S.W.2d 391, 397 (1989).
In Edgewood II, the court further established: “Once the Legislature provides an efficient system in compliance with article VII, section 1, it may, so long as efficiency is maintained, authorize local school districts to supplement their education resources if local property owners approve an additional local property tax.” 804 S.W.2d 491, 500 (1991). In Edgewood IV, the court clarified that this meant “that an efficient system does not require equality of access to revenue at all levels.” 917 S.W.2d 717, 729 (1995).
The court, in Edgewood IV, established that “if the Legislature substantially defaulted on its responsibility such that Texas school children were denied access to that education needed to participate fully in the social, economic, and educational opportunities available in Texas, the “suitable provision” clause would be violated.” Id. at 736. The court also concluded that implicit in the education article “is the State's duty to provide all districts with substantially equal access to the operations and facilities funding necessary for a general diffusion of knowledge.” Id. at 746.
In Neeley v. West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District, the court noted that the “general diffusion of knowledge” created an adequacy standard, though adequacy not carry its broader dictionary meaning. Instead, adequacy means that public education is achieving the general diffusion of knowledge the Constitution requires. The court further held: “Whether public education is achieving all it should-that is, whether public education is a sufficient and fitting preparation of Texas children for the future-involves political and policy considerations properly directed to the Legislature. Deficiencies and disparities in public education that fall short of a constitutional violation find remedy not through the judicial process, but through the political processes of legislation and elections.” 176 S.W.3d 746, 753 (2005)
The court then defined the general diffusion of knowledge required by the constitution, explaining,
“To fulfill the constitutional obligation to provide a general diffusion of knowledge, districts must provide “all Texas children ... access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation.”…Districts satisfy this constitutional obligation when they provide all of their students with a meaningful opportunity to acquire the essential knowledge and skills reflected in ... curriculum requirements ... such that upon graduation, students are prepared to “continue to learn in postsecondary educational, training, or employment settings.”....We agree, with one caveat. The public education system need not operate perfectly; it is adequate if districts are reasonably able to provide their students the access and opportunity the district court described.” Id. at 787
The Texas Public School Prekindergarten initiative serves 47% of 4-year-olds and 5% of 3-year-olds, but is rated only 4 out of 10 on the established quality indicators.
The State has acknowledged that the best time to rectify education achievement gaps is during the “earliest learning years.”
A district must offer pre-K classes if it has at least 15 eligible 4-year-olds and has not obtained a waiver due to lack of classroom facilities. A district may offer pre-K classes if it has at least 15 eligible 3-year-olds. Children ages 3 and 4 are eligible for the pre-K program if they are educationally disadvantaged, unable to speak and comprehend English, homeless, or abused and neglected children in the foster care system. In addition, any 3- or 4-year-old with a parent on active duty with the U.S. armed forces, reserve forces, or the National Guard, or whose parent was killed or injured while serving on active duty are eligible.
Basic funding for Texas's pre-K program provides for half-day services. However, expansion grants enable some districts to offer full day services. A district may also use district funds or charge tuition in order to provide full-day services.
Funding for pre-K is provided through regular school funding (the Foundation School Program). In addition, the commissioner awards grants to some districts (primarily those with low third-grade reading scores) to implement or expand pre-K programs.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Texas served 47% of all 4-year-olds and 5% of all 3-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2009-2010.
Texas only reached 4 out 10 benchmarks for the 2009-2010 school year.
The 4 benchmarks reached were:
- Early Learning Standards
- Teacher must have Bachelor’s Degree
- Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
- Teacher in-service (at least 15 hours/year)
The 6 benchmarks not met were:
- Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
- Class size limits of 20 students
- Class ratio of 1:10 or better
- Screening/referral and support services
- Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
- Monitoring/Site visit program.
The Texas school Readiness Certification System is a quality rating system designed to improve the academic achievement of pre-K students through a diverse delivery and evaluation system.