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Any day now the Texas Supreme Court will likely rule on the pending school-finance case. Four issues are before the justices:
Efficiency: Is the system productive of results with little waste?
Equity: Is money equitably allocated?
Adequacy: Do schools have enough money?
State property tax: Is the state in violation of the prohibition against a state property tax. Texas taxpayers, legislators, and school officials anxiously await this pending decision.
The efficiency issue is before the court for the first time and was plead by the Texas Association of Business and five families. The other three issues have been litigated multiple times in the past and have consistently been brought to the courts by public schools and their various associations. Historically the focus of school-finance litigation has been money and how that money is allocated. However, the court has continued to indicate that money is only one issue and that the school-finance system needs systemic change.
For more than three decades, the Texas Legislature has been wrestling with the thorny issue of school finance and school finance litigation. Time and again the legislature has tweaked the system only to find the state back at the courthouse defending the latest legislative action. Although the Texas Supreme Court has consistently called for “structural” change, the legislative solution has always been more patches to the existing structure.
Clearly, a different approach is required if the seemingly endless cycle of litigation is to ever end. On the first day of the trial in 2012 the lead attorney for the school districts indicated that litigation was just part of the school finance system. That should not be the case.
The way education is funded today consists of a hodgepodge of highly complex outdated formulas that would make a nuclear physicist’s head spin, formulas which the trial court found have little relation to what is required to educate a child. The current formula system has evolved over time based primarily on political considerations. In other words, politicians tweak the school funding formulas to deliver additional funding to whichever school districts politicians wish to favor in order to harvest sufficient votes for passage of their preferred legislation. School finance has become a way to earmark funds for political purposes.