Monday, October 17, 2011

Want to Fix School Financing? Sue.

"Please sue us soon." That was the note reportedly passed by one Texas legislator to a school finance lawyer during the last session of the Texas legislature. It was a white flag admitting that the Texas legislature itself wasn't going to fix the bollixed up Texas school finance system. So, it was inevitable that Texas school districts would turn to the courts to do it. This week, the first of several expected lawsuits was filed by 150 mostly low- and moderate-wealth school districts.

The issues, after the jump.

The lawsuits are expected to variously focus on the issues of equity, adequacy and "meaningful discretion." Equity in that per student state funding varies by thousands of dollars from one district to another, even when the property values of the districts are the same. Adequacy in that school funding, for the first time since World War II, has decreased in the current state budget, despite the rising number of students. And meaningful discretion in that caps on local property tax deny school districts flexibility in raising revenue.

The Richardson ISD will obviously be impacted by how this all plays out. Being a property rich school district, RISD is in the difficult position of sending property tax revenue to the state while simultaneously having to cut its own budget. The RISD is not yet a part of these lawsuits, but it's probably only a matter of time.

More details on the expected lawsuits can be found here, here, here, and here.

Aside to anyone who thinks the federal financing mess is caused by partisan gridlock in Washington: there's no partisan gridlock in Austin. Texas has had one-party rule for almost two decades. That hasn't saved us from having our own financing messes. So, if gridlock doesn't work, if one-party rule doesn't work, maybe we ought to try cooperation, compromise, consensus. Just a thought.

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