A Texas Child is a Texas Child
Texas District Court Judge John Dietz ruled in August that the funding system that serves Texas schools violates the Texas Constitution. His ruling stated that the current funding system is “constitutionally inadequate, unsuitable, and financially inefficient.” There are a lot of big words tossed around about this one sentence, but it basically states a very simple premise: all Texas kids do not receive equal access to the educational dollars necessary to make them good wage earners—and therefore good taxpayers—in the years to come. In other words, all school children in Texas are not created equal. While the debate on the necessity of this equality rages on, the simple truth is that the Texas Constitution mandates that the State shall provide for the “general diffusion of knowledge” for all students. In other words, we are not following our own law. A thumbnail summary of Dietz’ ruling says the heart of the problem seems to be the deficiencies in the following four basic areas:
· Inequitable—our state tax system fails to provide similar return for similar tax effort, producing high levels of inequity between the state’s wealthiest and poorest school districts. Texas’ richest districts have over one thousand more dollars to spend per student than the average poor district; this amounts to a gap of over $27,000 per classroom per school per district.
· Inadequately funded—school districts have been charged with doing more—more career counseling and training, more rigorous assessments of educational attainment, and more students than ever before graduating college- or career-ready. As of yet, though, no funding adjustments have been made to reflect what research shows is needed to achieve those outcomes.
· Insufficient—our state system fails to provide adequate funding for schools to address the needs of an ever-changing student population of English language learners and low income students, as much as 75%, according to the Intercultural Development Research Association. Even if one holds their figures must be biased and cuts that figure by half, the results are daunting.
· No meaningful discretion—because schools in Texas must tax at maximum levels to meet state requirements, school districts then lose meaningful discretion in local funding. Since everyone is taxing at the highest rate, the local Maintenance and Operation portion of the local school taxes become the equivalent of a state property tax.
So, what’s to be done? Frankly, we’re all getting a little tired of hearing about this topic. I know I’m tired of having to revisit it, year after year, decade after decade. “Robin Hood” has been around the entirety of my professional career (and no, I’m no youngster) and we are still fighting about money. It boils down to this—do we think our kids are worth more than the kids in Marion? Less than the kids in Dripping Springs? We need to answer this basic question—how much is a Texas child worth? When we can do that, we will fight no more.