Key Elements

Calhoun County ISD et al v. Williams

The lawsuit challenging theTexasschool finance system invokes the successful ruling in the West Orange-Cove II case in 2006 that was filed by Texas School Coalition members. Here are key excerpts from the lawsuit that was filed in state district court in Austin on Dec. 9, 2011.

“Texas schools today find themselves in the very situation of which the Supreme Court warned in West Orange-Cove II.  The State’s school finance system is no longer merely ‘drifting’ toward constitutional inadequacy.  It has arrived.”

Local control
“[School districts are not] reasonably able to make up for the loss in state funding by raising their local property taxes. In many districts, and for each of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, the
additional revenue that districts could generate and retain after recapture would fall well short of making up for the losses to the district resulting from funds cut by the Legislature.”

“Even if districts could raise enough money through local tax increases to offset the Legislature’s cuts, forcing districts to do so in order to achieve adequate funding would violate the Supreme Court’s precedent in West Orange-Cove II. Tax dollars raised above the compressed rate are intended to enable local supplementation and enrichment, not to be a vehicle for compensating for funding the State has failed to provide.”

“Chapter 41 districts . . . are placed in the position of asking voters to support a tax increase when a significant portion of any new tax revenue exceeding six cents above the compressed rate would be sent out of the district.”

“The State’s actions have . . . left school districts without meaningful discretion to control their local property tax rates, in violation of the Texas Constitution’s prohibition on state ad valorem taxes. This lawsuit seeks a declaration that the current system is unconstitutional and that the State must swiftly remedy the inadequacy of the system of funding for public education.”

Adequacy
“The Texas Supreme Court has elaborated that the public education system is adequate if districts are reasonably able to:

Provide “all Texas children . . . access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation.” TEX. EDUC. CODE § 4.001(a) (emphasis added). Districts satisfy this constitutional obligation when they [are reasonably able to] provide all of their students with a meaningful opportunity to acquire the essential knowledge and skills reflected in  . . . curriculum requirements . . . such that upon graduation, students are prepared to “continue to learn in postsecondary educational, training, or employment settings.” Tex. Educ. Code § 28.001 (emphasis added).”

“The total $5.4 billion cut to public education in the 2011 legislative session has forced districts to eliminate thousands of positions for teachers and other support staff. Budget constraints have driven school districts to request thousands of waivers of the State’s own statutory class size requirements. In addition, $1.4 billion of the cuts have come from grant programs, many of which are targeted towards at-risk students, like full-day prekindergarten, after-school tutoring, and dropout prevention programs, which will only exacerbate the significant ‘achievement gaps’ in Texas.”

“These cuts to school funding come at a time when Texas is well below national averages in perpupil expenditures – and also at the very time the State is requiring school districts to implement a new and more rigorous testing and accountability regime.”

 

Fact Sheet

Calhoun County ISD et al v. Williams

Members of the Texas School Coalition, which is made up of revenue-contributing school districts, filed suit in state district court claiming the state school finance system violates the Texas Constitution. The two principle claims are that the school finance system has turned into a de facto state property tax and that school districts lack adequate funding.

Successful prosecution of these claims would benefit all Texas school districts and would result in a fairer system that would provide districts the resources they need to meet rising academic standards. Victory on these claims would help assure that all school districts are adequately funded and that all school districts have available significant additional capacity to provide enrichment opportunities that their residents desire and that their children deserve.

Virtually All Texas Schools are Underfunded

  • Texas is adding about 80,000 students a year – most with economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This growth is not being adequately accounted for in the finance system during this biennium.
  • School districts across the State have been forced to lay off thousands of teachers and other support staff, and to refrain from hiring new teachers to accommodate enrollment growth, as a result of the $4 billion in budget cuts imposed by the Legislature to the Foundation School Program over two years.
  • In addition, the Legislature specifically cut about $1.4 billion from grant programs, many of which were dedicated to full-day prekindergarten, after-school tutoring and dropout prevention, which are all programs specifically designed to help our at-risk students. This will likely exacerbate the significant achievement gaps in Texas.

 

Local Control

  • The current school finance system has evolved into a statewide property tax, which is prohibited by the Texas Constitution.  The courts have made clear that school districts must have a meaningful ability to access local property tax funds for local enrichment.  However, the level of state funding has fallen to such a point that many, or even most, school districts must use all of their locally collected tax dollars to meet the basic education standards required by the State. The result is a de facto state property tax, which the Texas Constitution prohibits.
  • Revenue contributing school districts face the especially difficult challenge of seeking voter approval of tax rates when a significant portion of any new tax levy exceeding the “golden pennies” will be sent out of the district in the form of Robin Hood recapture.

 

 Adequacy

  • School districts now lack adequate funding to provide all Texas schoolchildren with the kind of quality education the Legislature requires. The Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education for the coming biennium, even as schools are being asked to implement a whole new set of accountability and end-of-course exams. At the same time, the State is increasing graduation requirements and performance standards on assessments. The State is not providing school districts with sufficient means to meet the Legislature’s own stated goals and expectations for public education.

 

Client Connect

Districts participating in the school finance litigation have the added benefit of access to attorneys with Haynes and Boone LLP, which represents the districts, as well as access to litigation documents through Client Connect. For more litigation information call 713-547-2000.