Families and businesses looking to make Texas schools more efficient have plugged into an ongoing lawsuit by more than 500 school districts suing the state for a more adequate and equitable distribution of education dollars.
Texas’s Constitution requires the legislature to provide an “efficient system of public free schools,” but public schools are not efficient, said the lead attorney for the coalition, Chris Diamond. His team plans to argue that fewer state and federal mandates on public schools, akin to the environment for charter schools, will create more bang for Texas’ educational buck. They will request the court require the state to lift its charter school cap and create a more competitive education environment.
“Some parents and business persons not well served by public schools have intervened to ask for efficiency productive of results,” said Kent Grusendorf, director of Texans for Efficiency and Equity in Education (TREE), a nonprofit.
TREE seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from financing public schools until legislators remedy the lack of efficiency. The proposed injunction would give the legislature a reasonable opportunity to fix these deficiencies before prohibitions take effect.
Spending Rises Five Times Enrollment
While student enrollment in Texas has risen by about 19.7 percent in the last decade, total education spending has risen nearly five times as fast, by 95.3 percent, according the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
Texas schools received $42,804,900, or 44 percent of Texas’ general revenue, and enrolled 4.9 million students in the 2010-2011 school year. Education is funded 36.7 percent by local property taxes, 18.2 percent by local bonds, 37.3 percent by state funds, and 7.8 percent from federal funds.
“We joined this lawsuit because while there are school districts that are efficient, fiscally prudent, and doing well educating our children, no district has brought the issue of efficiency before the court, and we think they should,” said Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond.
The original lawsuit parties must challenge the efficiency coalition’s request to join the suit by May 15 if they wish to do so.
Asking for a Lawsuit
School finance lawsuits have been ongoing in Texas for the last 30 years, Grusendorf said. A Texas legislator from 1987 to 2006, Grusendorf served as chairman of the House Education Committee and member of Ways and Means and School Finance committees during his tenure. He says the Texas Supreme Court “so much as asked for this efficiency lawsuit.”
A 1989 school finance decision “connotes the use of resources so as to produce results with little waste.” Grusendorf said. “The court obviously finds efficiency important, as it repeats that language in almost every one of four school finance opinions.”
In the most recent school finance case, from 2006, the justices “could not rule on public school inefficiencies,” he said. The court wrote, “We are constrained by the arguments raised by the parties to address only issues of school finance. We have not been called upon to consider, for example, the improvements in education which could be realized by eliminating gross wastes in the bureaucratic administration of the system. The Legislature is not so restricted.”
Rather than provide adequate classroom support for her son with special needs, said Darlene Menn, “the board of Odem-Edroy Independent School District blames the state legislators for money shortages and chooses to use students’ money to pay lawyers to sue the State of Texas.”
Various state and federal laws mandate class size limits, teacher benefits, and testing and reporting requirements, and school districts routinely claim these unduly drive up the cost of educating a student, especially those like her son, Menn said. She is a party to the lawsuit.
“The system could save up to $2 billion by allowing all schools to operate under more reasonable rules and regulations much like the more efficient regulations under which public charter schools operate,” Grusendorf said.
Image by Worapol Sittiphaet.