By Betsy Dolan
Using a typical splattered painting by the abstract artist Jackson Pollock to describe what the school funding issue currently looks like in Texas’ public schools, lawyer David Thompson warned the audience to expect “at least two more years of belt-tightening” before the school funding issue is sorted out. Thompson, who is representing the school districts that filed a lawsuit against the state, was the keynote speaker at the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce Education Division luncheon on Friday, April 13.
More than half of the school districts in Texas–including Fort Bend ISD– filed suit against the State, claiming the method for funding Texas public schools is unconstitutional. Those districts represent about 3.5 million students or 75 percent of the overall total student population in Texas.
In 2005, the Texas Supreme Court struck down the school funding system, ruling that the Texas legislature had over-relied on local property taxes, left local school districts without “meaningful discretion” over local tax rates and was operating a state property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution. Fast forward six years Thompson said, and the situation not only hasn’t improved “but has significantly deteriorated” since the State legislature failed to provide adequate resources to meet the higher academic standards they imposed.
“What is a fair share for the state to carry and what is a fair share for local communities to carry?” asked Thompson. “The state needs to replace money they have taken out.”
Furthermore, state lawmakers, Thompson said, cut more than $5 billion from education last year despite a Rice University study that showed 85,000 new students entering Texas’ public schools every year.
“We need to bring some efficiency to the process and that means equal access to finding for kids in poor and rich districts,” Thompson said. “We are not going to solve our problems by leveling down. We will only solve our problems by leveling up.”
Texas’ school finance lawsuits are set to go to trial Oct. 22.