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Fourth Major Funding Suit Filed in Texas

Houston, Dallas, Austin and 60 other school districts, representing 1.5 million students or one-third of the lone star state’s school population, filed a suit in late December challenging the state’s school funding system on both adequacy and equity grounds. Fort Bend Ind’t Sch. Dist. v. Scott. This suit is in addition to three cases previously initiated in recent months by different groupings of both affluent and low-income school districts. New Equity and Adequacy Suit Filed in Texas; Two More Texas Groups File Adequacy and Equity Law Suits. Taken together, over 500 Texas school districts have now sued the state. The four cases are expected to be consolidated before any trials commence.

The Fort Bend petition recounts the history of the previous funding litigations in Texas and accuses the state of failing to heed the state supreme court’s warning six years ago to make “significant structural changes.” Instead, according to the petition, the state has tinkered with “temporary fixes” that have created significant structural deficiencies that need to be addressed. The $5.4 billion budget cut that the legislature adopted in its last session has exacerbated an already flawed system that has failed to provide school districts the resources they need to meet the actual costs of complying with more demanding state standards and accountability mandates the state has imposed in recent years. Plaintiffs also claim that the legislature has failed to provide funding to keep up with the state’s increasing school population, about 60% of whom are low-income and at-risk students. In sum, the petition states that:

The solution must be a rational system that both adequately and equitably lifts all schools and children to the high performance requirements the State has set, and that preserves meaningful discretion for communities to supplement the State requirements with choices of their own. By ignoring and understating the true cost of its own determination of “general diffusion of knowledge,” the State has harmed both the adequacy and equity of the system, and has cynically pitted school districts and communities against each other in a zero-sum conflict in which some only gain at the expense of others. This broken system simply does not meet the high expectations and clear duties of the Texas Constitution.

Plaintiffs have requested a strong remedy. They ask that the court require the state to remedy the constitutional violations, undertake a study to determine “the true costs of meeting the State‘s performance requirements for all school districts and students, including appropriate weights and adjustments to accurately reflect the cost associated with specific groups of students,” and retain jurisdiction to ensure compliance. If the state does not comply “within a reasonable time,” plaintiffs request that the court enjoin all state spending on public education until a constitutionally-acceptable system is in place.

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