Subsequent to the school finance system passed by the last legislative session and months of study on its negative impacts on the children and taxpayers of La Porte ISD, and with strong recommendation to do so from Superintendent of Schools Lloyd Graham, LPISD has agreed to join a coalition of school districts to challenge the constitutionality of the state's current school finance system.
This coalition will be comprised of a broad and diverse group of school districts that will stand together and raise common concerns. These efforts are focused on obtaining a court ruling that will compel the Legislature to adequately fund public education, give local districts discretion over their own tax rates and tie funding to the standards and requirements of the state.
At the Oct. 11 meeting of the LPISD Board of Trustees, the Board adopted a resolution to participate in this school finance litigation and to engage the firm of Thompson & Horton LLP, which will represent the coalition. The lead attorneys will be firm partners David Thompson and Philip Fraissinet , who were part of the legal team that successfully argued the 2005 school finance litigation, West Orange Cove ISD v. Neeley. Thompson also represented the Texas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund in Edgewood IV in 1995, on behalf of 263 school districts, to question for the first time the adequacy of Texas public school funding.
In November 2005, the Texas Supreme Court struck down the state school finance system, finding that the Texas Legislature had over-relied on local property taxes, left local school districts without meaningful discretion over local tax rates, and ultimately was operating a state property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution. In the West Orange Cove opinion, the Supreme Court warned the Legislature that the state's system of financing public schools was dangerously drifting toward constitutional inadequacy if significant structural changes were not made. The coalition will maintain that this has come to pass.
This plaintiff group will make three assertions about the state's system of financing public schools and why it is unconstitutional.
First, this coalition will argue that the state's school districts are once again essentially operating under a state property tax. In the West Orange Cove ruling in 2005, the Texas Supreme Court noted that local school districts should have meaningful discretion over their own local tax rates and must have the right to supplement or enhance these rates over and above the requirements set at the state level.
This coalition will assert that most districts have the tax rates they currently do not because of their own communities' preferences, but to keep up with the requirements set by the state. While the coalition supports high standards for all Texas students, it believes that the state funding mechanism should be tied to those standards.
Second, the adequacy of Texas's system of financing public schools will be argued. In addition to students facing increased standards each year, the number of students in Texas grows by approximately 80,000 to 90,000 students annually-an enrollment 10 times greater than that of LPISD-with no funding for growth. Many of those students come from economically disadvantaged households or have other needs that school districts must address.
The final claim will be that the current funding system is irrational. The current target revenue system includes "weights" and other factors that are meant to account for differences in student populations. For example, the cost per student in a high school welding classroom is much more than the cost per student in a regular fifth grade classroom because of the specialized equipment and classroom space needed for this type of training; therefore, the per-student enrollment in the welding class is "weighted" to account for this increased cost.
The assertion of this coalition will be that the current system is outdated and not tied to the actual cost of educating students. The group will seek the court's intervention and direction of the Legislature to make significant structural changes that allow all Texas school districts to adequately fund services for their student populations.
As plans for the lawsuit are finalized and throughout significant events in the process, the LPISD Administration will provide updates and comments through this newsletter and the district website.
Graham said his recommendation was based primarily on his observation that "given the strength and talent of our diverse student body, the overriding quality of our faculty, the effective and efficient leadership present on our campuses and in our departments, all residing within the incalculable wealth of a loving and supporting school community-if the current school finance system did not work in the best interests of La Porte ISD's children, then for whom will it work?"