The Richardson Board renewed its decision to participate in the Texas School Coalition lawsuit over the school finance issue. The district’s recapture obligations under the current school finance system have steadily increased each year since its inception. Simultaneously, the state’s percentage contribution to public education has steadily decreased.
The 78th regular legislative session produced no meaningful change to the system. While the governor has indicated an intention to call a special session for school finance, that session is unlikely to occur before 2004. As the current system continues to worsen, all districts are faced with reduced revenues and ever-increasing performance expectations.
On April 9, 2001, four school districts filed suit in district court in Travis County challenging the constitutionality of the school finance system. While RISD trustees voted to give $30,000 toward legal fees, we did not join the suit as a named party at that time.
The suit seeks a declaration that the system is unconstitutional because it has created a statewide property tax prohibited by the Texas Constitution. After being dismissed at the trial court level, the case was appealed. Earlier this year, however, the Texas Supreme Court reinstated the litigation.
It began with only Chapter 41, or property-rich districts, participating. Now Chapter 42, or property-poor districts, are joining the litigation. Most notable among these are Dallas and Austin ISDs for certain, and possibly San Antonio.
RISD trustees support equity in spending for all Texas public school children. The core issue now is adequacy. There are simply not enough dollars for public education in the system. There’s no money for teacher raises, rising utility costs or increasing student numbers. Eighty thousand additional students pour into the system each year. Additionally, increasing accountability requirements imposed by TAKS and the No Child Left Behind law mean more resources are needed to help at-risk children perform up to expectations.
Trustees voted $50,000, as a one-time expense paid out of Fund Balance, to fund RISD’s legal expenses in the litigation. We are not using operating funds that could support a teacher’s salary. While we continue to work amicably with our legislators, we believe we must use all means available to help the state understand the severity of this problem.