The system Texas uses to fund public schools violates the state’s constitution by not providing enough money to school districts and failing to distribute the money in a fair way, a judge ruled Monday in a landmark decision that could force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for education.
Shortly after listening to closing arguments, Judge John Dietz ruled the funding mechanism does not meet the constitutional requirement for a fair and efficient system that provides a general diffusion of knowledge.
The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. This was the sixth case of its kind since 1984. In 2005, Dietz found the previous funding system unconstitutional and directed the Legislature to devise a new one.
While the two-thirds of Texas school districts suing the state (i.e., Texas taxpayers) based their arguments on funding adequacy and equity issues, another plaintiff group, Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (TREE), argued the state was lacking in an efficient delivery of public education.
Known within the lawsuit as Efficiency Intervenors, TREE argued that both Texas parents for their children and Texas businesses in needing an educated workforce have a Constitutional right to a system of public free schools.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that “’efficient’ conveys the meaning of effective or productive of results and connotes the use of resources so as to produce results with little waste.” To that end, witnesses and experts testified throughout the trial regarding drop-out rates and achievement gaps being largely unimproved for 25 years – despite decades of more and more money being spent. ISD superintendents testifying for all plaintiffs admitted to not producing results.
And as Texas businesses pay a large portion of the school taxes, they should have access to a well-educated workforce supporting a healthy economy that fuels more monies for education. Instead, Texas Association of Business (TAB) President and CEO Bill Hammond (TAB) testified how a 50% college remediation rate illustrates graduates’ lack of college readiness.
Competition brings efficiency and the absence of competition breeds inefficiency. That the Texas public education system is a monopoly was not disputed during the trial. That competition increases teacher salaries, increases productivity and quality for the students and the public schools and, most importantly, that it brings real equity to the system – equity for students, not just ISDs – were points heard repeatedly.
In response to the ruling, the Efficiency Intervenors released this statement:
Over the past three decades, not once but five times, the Texas Supreme Court has pointedly written that the Texas Constitution requires an “efficient system of public free schools.” Moreover, the Court has consistently defined efficiency as “productive of results” with “little waste.”
We are proud of our case and believe that, even in the light of the Court ruling, the public’s interest has been served. There has been a thorough examination of school formulas, state mandates, innovation, teacher tenure, performance and pay, and the lack of efficiency. We are hopeful that in doing so, we may be doing our part to improve Texas education.
Today’s ruling to not require the State to be efficient in its education system is, unfortunately, merely a continuation of the status quo. That is to spend more on the status-quo—even though so many of our students are in need of a better alternative. As we proved in our case, and as every superintendent who testified in the case said, the system is not productive of results. The system must do better in preparing Texas students for success in today’s world economy.
The District Court’s decision continues to focus on adequacy and equity for schools instead of adequacy and equity for students.
The intervenors are parents, the Texas Association of Business, and staunch education advocates. They earnestly believe the system must change dramatically and will continue to push for efficiency in our schools and more accountability on the part of our students’ teachers.
We will immediately move forward to appeal the lower court’s decision to the Texas Supreme Court. From the beginning, everyone has known that this is where the final decision would be made, and the Efficiency Intervenors have total confidence that the high court will uphold the constitutional rights of Texas students.