By Michael V. Hannigan
Malakoff ISD will be joining a lawsuit against the State of Texas aimed at problems with school funding.
Monday night, school board members unanimously accepted Superintendent Randy Perry’s recommendation to join the suit led by the law firm Haynes and Boone. Perry said the suit has been recommended by the Texas School Coalition, which is a group of Chapter 41 schools.
Under the state’s finance plan, money from property rich districts, called Chapter 41 schools, is given to poorer school districts. Malakoff has been categorized as a Chapter 41 district for several years and annually sends revenue back to the state. MISD is a member of the Texas School Coalition.
“It seems that the only way the State Legislature will do the right thing for our students is to have it mandated to them by the courts,” said Perry. “The State Legislature did not meet their Constitutional requirement of adequately funding the education of our students. The future opportunities for our Malakoff ISD students is at risk. We must look at all options to protect our students.”
Joining the case will cost the district $1,600 a year for up to three years, but board members hope the lawsuit is complete in two years.
“We can’t afford to stand on the sidelines,” said Perry.
MISD Trustee Dr. Pat Smith, a former superintendent, agreed. “We need to have some impact,” he said.
The legal case against the State will be based on two principles, said Haynes and Boone attorney John Turner in a press release provided by the Texas School Coalition.
Adequacy: The state has raised expectations and requirements for school districts, which adds costs, while significantly decreasing its funding to those same districts. Even though the state is increasingly using local school district tax dollars, the total level of funding is inadequate to pay for the kind of quality educational program required by the state.
Local discretion: Local school districts no longer have meaningful discretion to raise taxes for local enrichment programs. Those dollars that are not recaptured must effectively be used to simply meet the state’s standards. The school finance system imposes a de facto statewide property tax, which is unconstitutional.
“These are both essential claims that, if successful, will help to preserve the future of education for our children,” Turner said. “If we succeed in our claims regarding adequacy, it will benefit all districts by requiring the Legislature to provide new funds and new capacity in the system. In the past, we have seen one group of districts pitted against another to fight over existing dollars – many of them recapture dollars. The point is that the system as a whole is underfunded, and the school financing structure must be fixed to provide for the educational program that the state requires.”
The Haynes and Boone lawsuit is not the only one being planned. In his blog, Eustace ISD Superintendent Dr. Coy Holcombe last week listed four main groups challenging the way the state funds education:
- The Texas School Coalition
- a group organized by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)
- a group of schools organized by attorney David Thompson,
- the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition (which EISD is a member).
“(T)he Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition is challenging the current funding system on both equity and adequacy,” wrote Holcombe. “There are currently 321 school districts in this coalition.
It is expected that the various legal teams will work together.
Monitor Editor Pearl Cantrell contributed to this report.