Weatherford Democrat

October 24, 2012

Admins weigh in on start of state funding trial

Sally Sexton
Weatherford Democrat

WEATHERFORD —  

Opening statements began Monday, as attorneys representing more than 1,000 school districts across Texas argued that the state’s school funding system is inequitable and unfair.

In April, state district Judge John Dietz set the Oct. 22 trial date for four coalitions, teaming up for one lawsuit against the state — the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Texas School Coalition, the Taxpayers and Student Fairness Association and the Texas Equity Center.

“With the state increasing testing standards, increasing rules and regulations, increasing curriculum requirements, and increasing college readiness requirements, school districts across the state are having to crowd classrooms and make budgetary cuts that will affect instruction to our children,” Brock superintendent Richard Tedder said. “This does not even take into account the ridiculous federal standards within the AYP system.  Federal Adequate Yearly Progress reports and the Performance Based Monitoring System also costs districts thousands of dollars in order to meet compliance. About 823 school districts have passed a “Resolution Against High Stakes Testing” to send a message to our legislators that testing and accountability is fine, but we are sacrificing our children’s individuality and creativity for an excess of testing, not to mention the tremendous expense to the state our present testing system creates.”

Weatherford, Aledo, Springtown, Millsap, Brock and Peaster have all joined at least one of the coalitions, voting last year to join the financial fight, which represents more than 40 percent of Texas students.

“Everyone has to recognize that our current funding system is inequitable,” Springtown superintendent Mike Kelley said. “It’s encouraging to know that at least the process has started now.

“This is, I think, the sixth effort in the last four decades to get things changed.”

The state’s current funding system, passed down by the Texas Legislature, has remain unchanged since 2006, and district administrators have argued that much has changed since then, meaning the funding system is no longer operable.

“I am hopeful that they will replenish some of the funding they have taken due to the fact that recent reports have noted the rainy day fund has grown at a larger rate than anticipated and state sales tax numbers were higher than anticipated,” Peaster superintendent Matt Adams said. “I guess we will just have to wait and see.”

In June 2011, state legislators approved a cut in school funding in the amount of $4 billion over two years, including a 6 percent cut across the board for the 2012 fiscal year and $2 billion in targeted cuts for 2013.

“I would hope that with over 600 school districts being represented by six different interveners, someone will get the message,” Tedder said. “The Texas population is growing. Educational costs will continue to increase year after year, but so will the number of people paying taxes. The state should understand that their revenue base needs to be adequately expanded to deal with an expanding population, and those state revenues should be equally distributed to the public school districts of Texas within the state budget requirements.”

District administrators said the timing of the October trial would coincide with the start of the 83rd Texas Legislative Session, which is set to begin in early January.

“Hypothetically, we could be looking at a six-week trial with a verdict delivered in December or January,” Aledo ISD board member Bobby Rigues told the Democrat in April. “I think that might be good news because the legislative session will be in play and decisions can be made.”

But other administrators remain concerned that not much, if anything would be decided by January.

“It’s likely that Judge Dietz, who has been through this type of thing before, will move quickly, but I feel like that next step will have to be the Supreme Court,” Kelley said. “The senators and the representatives recognize the fact that the districts are underfunded, but there probably won’t be legislative relief this go-around.”