The problems we are having, once again, in funding education in Texas has to do with who (the rich) and what (income) we do, and more likely do not, tax. To fund public education in Texas we do it mostly through a property tax. Everyone should know by now that this system’s success was predicated on ever-rising real estate prices. While Texas has not had a bust, as many states in the nation have, there’s certainly been a slow decline, if not a stagnation, in Texas real estate prices. And that has caused some, but by no means all, of the current school finance problems.
But the legislature has forced many school districts hands by doing something it hasn’t don since 1949, Hutto ISD joins school finance suit against state.
Hutto ISD will join a lawsuit attacking the state’s school finance system and seeking equity for Texas students and taxpayers.
The Hutto Independent School District Board of Trustees voted Thursday night to become named plaintiffs, along with hundreds of other schools districts, parents, students and individual taxpayers, in a lawsuit to be filed by the Equity Center. The Center is an organization founded in 1982 by school districts as a response to what they deemed to be gross inequities in the state’s school finance system.
To cover costs associated with litigation, districts have been asked to commit $1 per Weighted Daily Average Attendance, or WADA, which amounts to about $5,992 for students in Hutto ISD.
“I’m not a big fan of suing the state,” trustee Phillip Boutwell said, “but I don’t think they’re going to change school finance unless somebody forces their hand.”
The litigation will focus on the Texas Legislature’s failure to fund enrollment growth for the first time since 1949 and seeks to address inequities inherent in the current school funding system, according to an Aug. 26 letter written by Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center.
Those inequities include a target revenue calculation method that favors wealthy districts, the Equity Center claims, as well as a property tax bias that creates dollar and tax gaps, causing districts in lower-wealth districts to receive less funding per student thus putting those students at a disadvantage.
The Center claims distribution of state funds using the target revenue system is arbitrary, with no “rhyme or reason” as to why comparable districts receive varying amounts of state funding.
“Under our [state] constitution, if a legislative scheme has no rational basis, it is unconstitutional,” Pierce writes. “This is a claim that has not been addressed by our Supreme Court because no funding scheme has ever been so irrational.”
That why in n a previously fast-growing district like Hutto, which added quite a bit of debt to build new schools, the bill is coming due, and the tax money is not coming as it once did to pay the bill.
The current system not only puts lower-wealth districts at a disadvantage, it punishes high-growth districts as well, according to Hutto ISD Superintendent Dr. Doug Killian.
Saddled with high debt due to construction of buildings to accommodate a once fast-growing population, Hutto ISD is prevented by law from taxing more than 50-cents per $100 valuation to make payments on its mounting debt. The district currently is maxed at the 50-cent rate and was already running a budget deficit prior to additional state funding cuts made in the last session, causing Hutto ISD to carve out $4 million in operations expenses to balance its budget.
“We are one of the districts that has been hurt pretty drastically by the cuts,” Killian said. “Our hope is that we might be working our way through the court system in 2013 when the Legislature is in session.”
Taylor ISD was one of the first to join the lawsuit.
Taylor ISD just to the east of Hutto was one of the first districts to sign on to the Equity Center’s litigation. At its Aug. 29 meeting, the Taylor ISD Board of Trustees gave unanimous approval to join the lawsuit and make an investment of $4,030 to help cover litigation costs.
Jerry Vaughn, superintendent of TISD, said he was one of the superintendents in the state asked to participate in a meeting in Austin to discuss the lawsuit.
“Various districts across the state are affected by the current financial system,” he said, noting that one of the main issues is the significant disparity between how much higher-wealth school districts receive from the state compared to medium- or lower-wealth districts, like Taylor.
Vaughn went on to explain that in 2005-06, the legislature began a “target revenue” system that is still in place today, which favors property-wealthy school districts and largely freezes education spending at 2005-06 levels, except for enrollment growth.
“Bigger districts are getting more money because of targeted growth,” he said, adding that some districts are receiving as much as $8,000 more than they should.
Perry and the GOP passed a tax swap scheme in 2006 that is defending public education in Texas. The GOP scheme created a multi-billion dollar annual structural budget shortfall. And to cover for that in this past legislative session the GOP dominated legislature cut $4 billion from public education. But Texas and Texans have never made fuding public education fair or a priority. It’s reflected in the politicians that are elected, it’s reflected in the fact that public education has never been fully funded, and that we’ve never created a statewide finance system.
Public education funding will never be fixed in Texas until the state’s constitution is amended and a state income tax is implemented.
Texas school districts inch closer to funding lawsuit.