Dec

16

Texas Coalition files school finance lawsuit

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : December 16, 2011

From Staff Reports

The school finance lawsuit Malakoff ISD is participating in was filed last Friday in state district court in Austin. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionally of the Texas school finance system, claiming that it fails to provide schools with sufficient funding to meet state educational standards and that the system has become a statewide property tax.

“The Texas Legislature in the last session failed to meet their constitutional obligation to adequately fund our public schools,” said MISD Superintendent Randy Perry. “Malakoff ISD will have funding cuts over the two-year biennium of over $900,000.”

Mark Trachtenberg and John Turner of Haynes and Boone, LLP filed the lawsuit. Most of the 60 participating districts are members of the Texas School Coalition, which is made up of Chapter 41 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.

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.

“Malakoff ISD is a member of the Texas School Coalition,” said Perry. “Our coalition has recommended joining the Haynes and Boone lawsuit group. The Haynes and Boone Lawsuit will benefit all districts by requiring the Legislature to provide new money and a new taxing capacity in the system. Texas School Coalition districts need someone speaking for them in a case that could shape the school finance system for years to come. The quality of our student’s education is at stake.”

The legal case against the state will be based on two principles Turner said 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.

Trachtenberg said, “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.”

Joining the case will cost Malakoff ISD $1,600 a year for up to three years, but board members hope the lawsuit is complete in two years.

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