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School Finance Goes Back to Court as 600 Texas Districts Seek Change in State Formulas

(Gary Scharrer, Houston Chronicle)
AUSTIN – When Texas broke away from Mexico in 1836, its declaration of independence cited disenchantment with a meager public education system – a theme that resonates still today.

Some 600 school districts will begin airing their concerns Monday in an Austin courtroom, questioning the fairness and adequacy of the way the state funds them, particularly in light of rising academic standards. The trial, which could last through January, continues a pattern of Texas districts suing the state to prod lawmakers to make changes to the school finance system.

“The inequities created by the state are deliberate, intentional, unjust and unconstitutional,” said David Hinojosa, lead school finance lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of six groups suing the state.

Six constitutional challenges to the state’s school finance system have reached the Texas Supreme Court since the landmark “Edgewood v. Kirby” decision in 1989, when the court ruled that “districts must have substantially equal access to similar revenue per pupil at similar levels of tax effort.”

“That equation doesn’t work,” said Brian Woods, superintendent of San Antonio’s largest school district, Northside ISD, which lost $61 million to legislative budget cuts last year. “You have to fund the system commensurate with the standards that you set.”

The districts argue that state funding varies widely among them. In Harris County, for example, Sheldon ISD gets $7,040 per student and Tomball ISD gets $6,512 while Cypress-Fairbanks ISD gets $5,157 and Channelview ISD gets $5,402, according to Texas Education Agency statistics. The disparity can mean more than a $30,000 difference for each classroom.

In Houston ISD, one of the suing districts, the student population consists of nearly 93 percent minority children, with 82 percent coming from low-income families.

“We have a lot of nonwhite, poor kids. A large percentage of them speak English as a second language. For anyone to say it doesn’t take additional resources to educate these children well, (they) just simply don’t know what they are talking about,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said.
(Read the rest of this story at the Houston Chronicle)

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