By Greg Moses
"Next year Lord we’d love to give thanks for everybody’s freedom and
equality, but in the meantime please accept our appreciation for the
fact that after you adjust for race and class, some of our kids seem
not too pulled down by impossible situations."
Such was the blessing spoken by the Texas Supreme Court this
week as justices released a long-awaited school funding decision just
in time for the American Winter Holiday Season.
To the wealthier school districts of Texas (known as the West Orange
Cove plaintiffs) the court granted permission to raise local tax rates
in behalf of ‘educational excellence’ in all the right neighborhoods.
To the rest of us, the court explained how the structure of funding in
Texas does not make it impossible for poor districts to keep themselves
accredited, and therefore the urgent pleadings from the poor districts
for more support cannot be expected to rise to the level of
In one sense it was a crisp and clear ruling, cutting through
the panic arguments filed by the state in an attempt to steer the case
away from the godawful facts that had impressed the trial judge. Panic
arguments such as the court has no jurisdiction nor the districts
proper standing were one by one dismissed. After all, the court had
already issued a decade or more of school funding rulings all named
‘Edgewood’ after a famous San Antonio school system.
After cutting through the panic arguments, the court took the facts
boldly in hand and said things like, sure, the buildings look like crap
in these pictures, but what does that have to do with education? The
kids seem to be passing, don’t they? It’s a bad situation, but it’s not
that bad. One fourth of all school districts in Texas have not yet
levied special taxes to support their own school buildings, so the
question of the state’s obligation is beside the point.
This Thanksgiving, we can give thanks to a few attorneys and school
districts who jumped into the lawsuit because they wanted to make sure
the rich districts didn’t run away with all the money. In that
struggle, our longstanding heroes from Edgewood and Alvarado seem to
have maintained a very costly line in the form of a warning from the
Supreme Court that if things get much worse, well there has to be some
limit to the amount of hypocrisy the court will publicly tolerate.
MALDEF was quick to denounce the decision as justice delayed
for the children of Texas. With richer districts now able to ‘enhance’
their schools through higher local taxes than previously allowed, and
with the legislature under no real court pressure to make things more
equal (just don’t let them get much more unequal) the timeline for
justice is matching up a little closer to that previously scheduled
cold day in hell.
“In 2003,” said the court, “Texas ranked last among the states
in the percentage of high school graduates at least 25 years old in the
population.” Fully half the Hispanic students and nearly half the
African-American students drop out during high school. In Texas, Black
and Hispanic students are the majority. By the year 2040, these
‘minorities’ will constitute two-thirds of the population. But the cost
of a just education is difficult to quantify said the court. Glaring
challenges of high school literacy the court could not quite translate
into a single legal reason for constitutional urgency.
There was a dissenting opinion: a heartfelt manifesto for
justice through ‘competition’ duly applied to suggestions for
competition between districts and more tax money for private schools.
BTW, all those anti-affirmative action voices who say we should really
start equalizing education at the elementary level? There were so many
of them hollering when the Hopwood case was news. Today they seem quite
happy to note with the Texas Supreme Court that democracy is still good
enough for constitutional purposes so long as you know how to properly
adjust your expectations for differences of race and class.
Anyway, that’s the news from Texas. Dog bites kid. Pass the turkey please.