Art offers his perspective as a movement progressive activist.
Well, the Texas school finance lawsuit forum was a success. It was something to be proud of. My club, Meyerland Area Democrats, hosted it in a well known public school. We got 100 folks from all over to come. Although the media expressed interest and press releases were sent to reporters, none showed to cover this event. A landmark lawsuit seeking to remedy funding cuts on top of a woeful system in a state whose governor wants to be president was NOT enough to garner attention from the papers.
However, we are getting some attention now, thanks to an op-ed I’ve written about our event. It was published in the Examiner papers locally. It is a worthy read because I sum up our event and the core issue of this lawsuit of national significance. We hope other papers will pick this up and I will update ya’ll on that.
Here is what I wrote to all the papers in town and hope you spread the word:
Taking Texas to court over school funding inequities
By ART PRONIN
Posted: Monday, October 24, 2011 11:04 am
The Meyerland Area Democrats hosted a lively forum on the critical school finance lawsuit at Johnston Middle School last week. Because the state legislature has failed to come up with a universal equitable system to fund our schools time and again there is no choice but for hundreds of ISDs to sue the state for remedy. This funding inequity should infuriate and mobilize all Texans no matter if you are liberal, conservative, rich or poor. Why? Because your tax dollars are not being properly distributed in any fair manner and your community is not getting its share of funds.
Paul Colbert, a consultant to the Equity Center, State Rep. Scott Hochberg, Randall Buck Wood of Ray & Wood, and David G. Hinojosa, Southwest regional counsel for MALDEF, spoke about why the lawsuits have been or will be filed.
Other dignitaries who attended were HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche, Harris County Department of Education Trustees Debbie Kerner and Jim Henley, State Rep. Borris Miles, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell.
Rep. Hochberg provided insight into the nonsensical school finance system and showed how the legislature utterly failed in its duties to properly fund our schools. The bottom line is our state is in perpetual deficit intentionally created when the new business “margins” tax was implemented in 2006 to remedy the last time the courts told the state to improve school funding, which was in 2005 While there was even less revenue due to the economy and no new federal stimulus funds in 2011, the legislature simply cut over $5 billion from the schools and blamed it on the economy rather than fixing the problem they created.
MALDEF’s Hinojosa focused on the gross civil rights violations of this funding system. He noted that all students must meet the same standard to get into college – all must do well on their SAT tests, get great grades and pass state-mandated exams. Yet the poor districts, which often enroll sizable Latino, African American, and low income children, simply cannot give their students the footing needed to make it into college. The result: a nightmare for the future of Texas. MALDEF expects to soon file a lawsuit on behalf of low wealth school districts, parents and children.
Wood, general counsel for the Equity Center, which filed one of the lawsuits against the state, explained how arbitrary and unfair the funding system is. One poor district might tax at a higher rate but gets less back from the state to educate their pupils, while a rich district might tax less and find they too are not getting needed funds. Texas currently has the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation, while the finance system continues to worsen and cuts pile on. So the only remedy is to go to court and get a fix by getting the court to order the legislature to fix the system or close the schools. He also noted the Texas constitution guarantees an equitable quality education to all residents.
Colbert provided a detailed view of the inequities in the current finance formulas and pointed out how they are based on cost levels from the 1980s. Changes have not been made to fund a growing need to better educate students. Instead, large and unnecessary cuts were made, yet the state leadership is now falsely trying to claim an increase in funding for schools. Colbert provided the actual numbers from the state itself demonstrating that funding has decreased by billions of dollars, leaving schools with a decrease in revenue of over $500 per student from the prior two years. School districts are getting less state aid per student than they received in the 2007-8 school year. He also pointed out that Houston ISD would have received over $11 million more this year if it had just been funded at the state average level per student.
The Equity Center has organized a coalition of parents, civic groups and ISDs to press forward for justice for Texas schools. It is called Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition.
The Meyerland Area Democrats Club is made up primarily of residents of election precincts in the Meyerland area, including Westbury, Maplewood and Marilyn Estates. For additional information, click to http://www.meydems.org
Pronin is president of the Meyerland Area Democrats.