School finance lawsuit: Texas school districts v. Texas taxpayers

Eyes are on a Travis County courtroom as opening arguments began this morning in a Texas school finance lawsuit.  A Texas Tribune/KUT News posting  characterized the action as a “major school finance case pitting more than 500 school districts against the state in a legal battle that could reshape how money is distributed to classrooms across Texas.”  More fittingly, however, this action should be termed 500+ school districts using taxpayer funds – from where else does their money come? – to sue Texas taxpayers in order to gain greater access to taxpayer funds.  While all Texas taxpayers are involuntarily funding at least one side of this battle, some are picking up the tab for both!

Arguing the system is “hopelessly broken” and inefficient to a point of violating the state’s Constitution, The Tribune said this of the morning’s opening statements:

Four different coalitions of school districts offered the same underlying message Monday morning: that by reducing funding to public schools during the 2011 Legislature while ratcheting up standards for academic performance through the new accountability system, the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education. Meanwhile the concentration of low-income and English language-learning students in Texas schools, groups that require more resources to educate and consistently score lower on state exams, has continued to increase.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by Peggy Venable, Texas Director, Americans for Prosperity, opens “Raise your hands, Texans!  You are subject to a shakedown.”

Terming today’s proceeding as the start of a “months-long, billion-dollar financial shakedown cloaked as school finance,” Venable also observes the lawsuit may be done in the name of the kids, but it isn’t about the kids.  Lawyers, she also says, will be the big winners as “they will likely be paid millions of our tax dollars to perpetuate this heist.”

Venable’s statement goes on to discuss the entry of taxpayers into this lawsuit challenging the efficiency with which education dollars are spent, as is required in the state constitution.

According to the Comptroller’s office, K-12 education funding has increased at a rate of five times faster than student enrollment growth from 1999-2009.  But student performance isn’t reflecting that additional investment.

Taxpayers will ask how we can determine if the funding is adequate if the spending is inefficient, when half of the education funds are spent on instruction and the average school district has one non-teacher for each teacher.

Taxpayers should demand greater efficiency in education funding rather than simply continue to pour more money into the system.

The current system is unconstitutional because it is inefficient.

Arguments from all sides will largely center on efficiency and adequacy with regard to the Texas education industry and its the use of public dollars.  These certainly are important issues – especially ahead of the Texas 83rd Legislative Session.

Let’s also not forget that new school spending will be on top of an existing $322 billion in local government debt as Texas ranks #2 only behind California in financial commitments our cities, counties, school districts, water districts, hospitals and/or community college districts have racked up.

With school districts comprising more than $108 billion of that debt (municipal debt is at $98 billion), we’re reminded that public education has hardly experienced limited access to taxpayer dollars.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas and a Director of Women on the Wall. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

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