The Glen Rose ISD board of trustees on Thursday night will vote whether to support a lawsuit challenging the Texas school finance system’s constitutionality.
Members of the Texas School Coalition, made up of so-called “property wealthy” schools, were among six school districts that filed the suit last Friday. The complaint claims that the state does not give schools sufficient funding to meet state educational standards and that the system boils down to a statewide property tax.
The law firm Haynes and Boone, LLP filed the suit in state district court in Austin on behalf of six school districts. The plaintiffs are the Calhoun County, Abernathy, Aransas County, Frisco, Lewisville and Richardson school districts.
An additional 54 school districts are represented by the law firm in connection with the case. Most are members of the Texas School Coalition, which is made up of revenue-contributing schools. These districts have paid almost $15 billion in local taxes to the state finance system since 1993 and are projected to pay more than $1 billion this school year, the coalition said.
Glen Rose ISD has paid more than half of $1 billion under the so-called “Robin Hood” school funding plan of taking revenues from property-wealthy district and giving them to poor districts to equalize funding.
In Glen Rose, most of the property wealth and tax money comes from the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant.
Supporting the lawsuit is on the GRISD board’s agenda for its Thursday meeting.
The board will contemplate giving financial support to the effort, said GRISD Superintendent Wayne Rotan.
In 2005, GRISD joined a similar suit and provided $15,000. It later recovered its attorney fees.
Rotan said the board will consider whether to provide $5,000 for three years again to support the suit. But the district does not plan to join the suit as a major plaintiff.
Mark Trachtenberg, one of the Haynes & Boone attorneys filing the suit, said in a prepared statement that the Texas school finance system “is in crisis again.”
The current system “does not meet the constitutional definition of adequacy and denies local districts the ability to address that inadequacy,” he said.
Trachtenberg continued: “This lawsuit will demonstrate that school districts are not being provided with the resources needed to meet the standards the State of Texas itself has identified as the measure of a constitutionally adequate education. And, the State’s actions have left school districts without meaningful discretion to control their local property tax rates, which violates the constitutional prohibition against a statewide property tax.”
The coalition charged that the Texas Legislature failed for the first time in 60 years to fund enrollment growth by cutting $5.4 billion from public education for the next two-year budget cycle. Texas schools add about 80,000 students annually, the coalition said.
The budget cuts forced districts to eliminate thousands of positions for teachers and other support staff, the coalition added.
“These severe funding reductions come at a time when Texas is requiring school districts to implement a new and more rigorous testing and accountability regime,” said Haynes & Boone attorney John Turner, referring to the switch from TAKS to the STAAR testing program.
“The level of state funding has fallen to such a point that many, or even most, school districts must effectively use all of the local funds they can raise just to meet basic education standards,” Turner added. “Local tax dollars raised above a certain level ought to be available for local enrichment, and should not be used to compensate for funding the state has failed to provide.”
The plaintiff lawyers plan to argue that the state has “effectively co-opted the taxing capacity of districts, resulting in a de facto state property tax, which is prohibited by the Texas Constitution,” Turner said.
The state’s school finance system is “no longer merely drifting toward constitutional inadequacy,” Turner added. “It has arrived.”
Please see the Reporter’s Web site Thursday night for coverage of the school board’s decision.