SENATE COMMITTEES TRY TO AVOID FUTURE CHALLENGES TO EDUCATION FUNDING IN THE STATE
(AUSTIN) — Unless Texas changes its education funding system, the state could once again find itself facing a lawsuit over education funding. That was the testimony today before a joint hearing of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Property Appraisal and Revenue Caps.
Lawsuits challenging the fairness of the state's education funding system led to sweeping reform in 2006. Senate Finance Committee chairman Senator Steve Ogden says Texas is once again vulnerable to such a lawsuit, due to growing inequalities between districts.
"I think that the $50 billion we're spending could be spent better to address the issue of equity, and if we don't start addressing the issue of equity we're heading back to the courthouse" he said.
The current system, based around revenue targets, uses complicated formulas that take data from previous years to determine how money is distributed to school districts. Because the cost of education today is increasing, due to the need for competitive salaries and increasing transportation costs among others, using data from past years to determine current funding has lead to an increasing disparity between the richest and poorest districts.
David Thompson, an Austin attorney who has litigated both for and against the state in school finance cases, testified that the Texas constitution requires the state to provide free universal education that is equitable and adequate. Thompson pointed out that the fact that that nearly a quarter of Texas high school seniors failing to meet state-set standards in math and reading could be come an issue in future legislation.
Thompson also highlighted the constitutional ban on a state property tax. Article 8 of the state constitution requires that local districts have meaningful discretion to set their own property tax rates.
Reforms in 2006 capped property tax rates at a dollar for each $100 in property value. Those same reforms also allow districts an additional four cents for local enrichment and another 13 cents if voters give the OK.
However, none of the issues presented today are critical, said Thompson, but that the Legislature should be prepared to address them in upcoming sessions.
The committees adjourned subject to call of the chair.