Superintendent says Finance ruling good news but battle not over

Finance ruling good news but battle not over
By Dr. Sylvester Perez, Interim Superintendent

As you likely have heard, a state district judge on Monday ruled Texas’ system of funding public schools unconstitutional, describing it as inefficient and inadequate and saying it has created a de facto statewide property tax. This is an important victory for public education in our state and for our district, and we are very pleased with Judge John Dietz’s ruling.

However, we know the battle is far from over. The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, and we will keep a close eye on the next phase of the process. In the meantime, we appeal to state lawmakers to do the right thing for all Texas schoolchildren this legislative session, starting with the restoration of the $5.4 billion in education cuts made in 2011.

SAISD became the first area school district to join the funding lawsuit in September 2011, taking a stand to speak out for Texas school children by calling for an adequate public education for all children. We’ve advocated the use of a rational, cost-based funding formula that treats districts and children fairly. More than 600 school districts across the state ended up joining the lawsuit in one of six plaintiff groups.

In his ruling, Dietz found that our current public education funding system lacks the local control to prevent it from being a statewide property tax and that districts lack adequate funding to provide all their students with the kind of quality education that the Legislature has identified as essential.

The current system funds public schools at levels that differ greatly from school district to school district, with some districts receiving a thousand dollars or more per student than others – even when in the same city or having the same tax rate. School districts also have lost meaningful discretion over their property tax rates. Because some districts have to use all of their local funds just to meet state standards, the state has effectively co-opted our entire taxing capacity, resulting in what is, in actuality, a state property tax.

We want a system that enables districts to educate students on a level playing field and provides enough money to carry out the new expectations that the legislature has placed on school districts, even as it has cut the funding needed to meet those expectations.

It was no surprise that Judge Dietz found the level of funding to be inadequate. Rankings of per-student public education spending in the United States have Texas toward the bottom of the list. How can we expect to contribute to a robust Texas workforce, helping to shape our future economy, if we lack the resources needed to prepare our students?

Let us continue to make our voices heard at the state level, urging lawmakers to take action in favor of Texas public school students, rather than waiting for an order from a higher court, if that be the outcome of the Supreme Court case, to do what is right – not just for SAISD students but for all Texas schoolchildren and the future of our great state.

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