A Texas judge has ruled the way that state funds public schools in unconstitutional. It’s up to the Texas Legislature to find a new way to pay for schools — and lawmakers need to figure out a method that won’t increase the already heavy burden on taxpayers.
On Wednesday, after a six-week trial in Austin, Texas, District Judge John Dietz said the state’s method of school finance — called “Robin Hood” because it takes money from rich school systems and bestows it to poor districts — doesn’t give students an adequate education. The judge ruled the current system forces school districts to levy an unconstitutional tax to pay for state-mandated education requirements and calls for standards that cost more than Texas can afford to meet.
Under the Robin Hood plan, which the Legislature approved in 1993, the state’s wealthiest school districts — about 13 percent — must share their property tax revenue with poorer districts. There are 1,037 school districts in Texas, so about 134 districts end up giving money to their poorer counterparts. It’s a good deal for the taxpayers of the property-poor districts, but not so great for those in the districts footing the bill.
Dietz gave the state one year to come up with a new plan. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office represented the state in the trial, said he will appeal the verdict to the Texas Supreme Court.
The judge warned that the Lone Star State will see a less educated populace in the coming decades unless officials do something.
“Texas will have a population that is larger, poorer, less educated and more needy than today,” Dietz said. “Who in Texas would choose that future? The answer is: no one.”
But no one wants to pay more in taxes, either. And the Legislature has been loath to even touch the issue of school finance without being forced. In fact, it took a lawsuit by the property-poor Edgewood school district in San Antonio to force lawmakers to enact the current system more than a decade ago.
Now, after Deitz’s ruling, the state is back where it was in 1989, with too many state mandates and no way for most districts to pay for them.
As Texas politicians look for answers, they need to recall the judge’s statement that the state’s educational standards cost more than the system can pay for. Politicians — who never hesitate to call for spending other people’s money — need to stop forcing more state requirements on districts, which in turn forces schools to hit taxpayers for more money. Local school districts, of course, have a responsibility to spend tax money wisely, avoiding the frivolous spending and the waste prevalent in too many school systems.
However Texans end up funding public schools, those forced to pay taxes deserve their money’s worth.