Judge's Rulings & Statement (Sept. 15, 2004)

Following closing arguments in the Texas school funding trial on Sept. 15, 2004,

Judge John Dietz (250th District Court of Texas) issued three rulings, an advisory, and public

comments. Copies of the documents have been provided via email from the judge’s office. After each

of the three rulings below, I have added an editor’s

note:

Rulings

Ruling 1. The Court

declares that for plaintiff districts and others, the costs of meeting the constitutional mandate of

adequacy and/or the statutory regime of accreditation, accountability, and assessment exceeds the

maximum amount of revenues that are available under the State’s current funding formulae. Therefore,

the State’s school finance system fails to provide an adequate suitable education as required by

Article VII, section 1 of the Texas Constitution.

Editor’s Note:

“Adequacy” is one of three standards (suitability,
adequacy, and efficiency) used by the Texas

Supreme Court to test the constitutional
validity of any educational system established by the

legislature. As the wording
of the ruling indicates, the “adequacy standard” determines whether

resources
provided are sufficient to ensure that a “general diffusion of knowledge” is

offered to Texas school children. The Judge here says that the legislature
has not provided enough

resources to meet its constitutional obligations. In
ruling number three below, the judge will

also rule that the system is not
sufficiently”efficient”. But it is interesting to note that

the judge did
not rule against the “suitability” of Texas education. In other words, he

seems to be satisfied that the curriculum standards offered in Texas education
are appropriate,

but need to be more widely supported with resources. I take
this to mean that Texas educators have

developed an appropriate curriculum,
and may even be doing the best they can with the resources

given them. The
failure in this regard belongs mostly to agents who are supposed to make sure

that the state gives out “adequate” resources to support its educators and
students. In other

words, it is the elected officials of Texas, not the administrators,
educators, or students who

are chiefly at fault in this judgment.

[See additional rulings, editor’s notes, and

comments from the judge in Read More below:]

Ruling 2. The Court

declares that for some of plaintiff districts and others are forced to tax at the $1.50 statutory cap

on the M&O tax rates to provide a general diffusion of knowledge and/or a statutory accreditation,

accountability, and assessment regime. These districts have lost all meaningful discretion in setting

the tax rate for their districts, thereby violating Article VIII, section 1 (e) of the Texas

Constitution.

Editor’s Note: This is the main issue that motivated the

lawsuit from the “property-rich” districts of Texas, otherwise known as the West Orange Cove

plaintiffs. They argued that because they were taxing at or near the maximum allowable rate of $1.50

(per hundred dollars of taxable property value for purposes of Maintenance and Operation) and because

they were using nearly all the resulting funds to attempt to provide basic state and federal

requirements, that they were subsequently unable to offer desired local options for enrichment and

excellence. This, they argued, meant that their local property taxes had in effect been hijacked for

state purposes, making the property tax a state tax. And a state property tax is unconstitutional in

Texas. The Judge agreed that the $1.50 limit on local taxes had resulted in an unconstitutional state

property tax.

Ruling 3. The Court declares that the State’s school

finance system is neither financially efficient nor efficient in the sense of providing for the

mandated adequate education nor the statutory regime of accreditation, accountability, and

assessment.

Editor’s Note: This is the famous “Robin Hood” ruling.

As
headlines blared the morning after the judge’s ruling, “Robin Hood” as we know
it has

been found lacking. But this does not mean that the “Robin Hood” system
has been overturned. In

fact, the judge here is saying that the state does
not yet do enough to “equalize” the funding

disparities between property rich
and property poor districts. This ruling is a victory for the

Edgewood Interveners
represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the

Alvarado

Interveners represented by “Buck” Wood and his associates. Here the judge
is

saying that the legislature needs to adopt an even more equitable “Robin
Hood” scheme. Bad news

for all fans of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Judge’s advisory: I will

enter an injunction that state funding of public schools cease unless the legislature conforms the

school finance system to meet these constitutional standards. The effective date of the injunction

will be one year from the date I enter the order, which will be approximately October 1,

2004.

Judge’s Public Remarks (as read in court):

I have

kept this yellow sticky on my computer monitor and it is a quote from Edgewood IV, it says: The people

of Texas have themselves set the standards for their schools. The court’s responsibility is to decide

whether that standard has been satisfied, not to judge the wisdom of the policy choices of the

Legislature, or to impose a different policy of our choosing. To the best of my ability, I have tried

to follow the Supreme Court’s admonition of judicial restraint.

Texas has experienced

phenomenal growth of population over the past decade and a half. We are now the second most populous

state in the country. This growth has shown itself in our schools. Texas now has 4.4 million public

school children and we are adding approximately 80,000 students a year to our system.

There is, in our current system, unquestionably, a significant gap of more than ten points in

educational achievement between economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged

students. This is really remarkable when you consider that over half of our public education students

in Texas are economically disadvantage. In other words, half of our students in Texas are significantly

behind in achievement compared to the other half.

The state demographer, Steve Murdock,

whose 500-page report is in evidence, has projected what happens to our Texas population if this

educational achievement gap continues on into the future. If the education gap persists on into the

year 2040, Texas average household income falls from about $54,000 presently to $47,000. If the gap

persists to 2040, the number of adult Texans without a high school diploma will rise from 18% presently

to 30%. Additionally, the population in prison, on welfare, and needing assistance will likewise rise

significantly. In other words, Texas in 2040 will have a population that is larger, poorer, less

educated, and more needy than today.

Who in Texas would choose this as our future? The

answer is no one. Not a single Texan, from Brownsville to Dalhart or El Paso to Beaumont, would pick

that as a future for Texas. Well, what can we do to keep this dismal future from becoming a reality?

The key to changing our future is to close the gap in academic achievement between the

haves and the have-nots. The state demographer projects that if we could close the gap in educational

achievement just half way by 2020, then Texans would be wealthier than today in real dollars spend more

money for our economy pay more taxes for our government.
If the education gap were completely

closed, then Texas would be wealthier and would spend less in real dollars on prisons and the needy

than it does today. The solution seems obvious; Texas
nee
ds to close the education gap. But the rub is

that it costs money to close the educational achievement gap. It doesn’t come free. So, are Texans

willing to pay the price, to make the sacrifice to close the education gap, to secure their future and

their children’s future?

Our willingness to make the sacrifice depends upon our vision

and our leadership. Throughout our history as a state, our leaders have understood the importance of

education.
Chief among the complaints of Texans, in 1836, declaring their independence from the

government of Mexico, was that the government of Mexico with its boundless resources had failed to

establish any public system of public education. It’s there in the Texas Declaration of Independence.

In our very first constitution, our founders gave the legislature a mandate to establish a system of

public education, a provision that was repeated by our leaders in the 1876 Constitution.

Are we, at this present day, to turn our back on our 168 years of heritage of Texas public

education and say that we aren’t prepared for the sacrifice? Are we to say that to close the gap is

too hard, too much money, and that we simply give up?

Are we prepared for a future in

Texas that is dismally poor, needy, and ignorant? I think not.

Again I repeat it is the

people of Texas who must set the standards, make the sacrifice, and give direction to their leaders.

And the time to speak is now. These problems only get more difficult the longer we

wait.

The lesson is this, education costs money, but ignorance costs more money.

Money invested in education benefits first the children of Texas, or in other words, our future.

It also benefits our entire economy because educated people make more money, spend more money, and pay

more taxes.

I have abundant optimism that the people of Texas are willing to pay the

price and make the sacrifices necessary for the education of our children. As Texans, we can and must

do better for our future, our children. It’s the right thing to

do.

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