School Finance Issues Statewide
The state of Texas serves over five million public school students, one out of every ten in the nation. Our school districts are incredibly diverse, from urban to rural, from fast-growth suburbs to bedroom communities, and the problems facing each are multifaceted and complex. But all of them will benefit from providing sufficient resources that ensure our students can successfully be prepared for college and career.
How We Got Here
Education has been at the center of the story of Texas from its very beginning; one of the reasons listed for declaring independence from Mexico was a failure to provide for public schools. Ever since then, what constitutes “suitable provision” for education and where we find the money to pay for such a provision, has been a source of conflict. In order to move forward, we have to understand where we’ve been. Learn more by listening to our podcast.
Pres. Lamar makes a plan Read more
The plan changes Read more
The plan fails Read more
Mirabeau Lamar becomes the second president of the Republic of Texas, and begins his term with a speech on education: "Education is a subject in which every citizen, and especially every parent, feels a deep and lively concern. The present is a propitious moment to lay the foundation of a great moral, and intellectual edifice, which will in after ages be hailed as the chief ornament and blessing of Texas." There was just one problem: the treasury of the new nation was empty. So, Lamar set aside over 13,000 acres of public land "for the purpose of establishing a primary school or academy" in each county.
The sale and lease of these public lands failed to generate much of a fund, given that land was "abundant and consequently ridiculously cheap. There is no evidence that any county in early times used its land for the establishment of schools." So a new strategy was developed: invest what money had been raised into the fast-growing railroad industry: "A majority of the most intelligent public men of the day believed the plan a wise means of investing this fund."
Texas enters the Civil War. Over the course of the conflict, industry grinds to a halt, the railroad companies default on the loans offered them from the school fund, and what little is left is diverted to the war effort. "Thus the school fund lost heavily, and for many years a settlement was not effected."
Reconstruction EducationRead more
Deconstruction of EducationRead more
Gov. Roberts de-funds the schools Read more
"The public free schools opened for the first time in the history of Texas." So declared Col. Jacob C. DeGress, the Union general made State Superintendent of Education by Republican Governor E.J. Davis. These public free schools were funded, for the first time, by a tax on all property in the state. This policy was met by "absolute repugnance of the people... The policy of using force to compel one man to educate the children of another was regarded as nothing less than robbery and confiscation."
Riding the overwhelming anti-tax sentiment, Democrats regain control of the Texas government and rewrite the state Constitution. These lawmakers do away with a number of policies that it would take years for the state to return to: compulsory attendance, teacher certification, and local taxation. They instead rely upon the same financing method Pres. Lamar had settled on nearly forty years earlier, the sale of public lands.
Governor Oran M. Roberts, "strongly convinced that the schools were a dismal failure, vetoed the appropriation for the support of the schools and precipitated a new crisis in the affairs of the state. It was now clear that the annual income for the support of the schools must be increased from some source other than the general revenue."
Local districts fund themselves Read more
Crucial constitutional amendments Read more
The Better Schools Campaign Read more
The first amendment to the Texas Constitution is ratified, creating the district school system and giving these local districts the right to tax themselves for the benefit of their schools. Benjamin M. Baker, the first state superintendent appointed under the new system, says "Friends of education can feel assured that our public free schools have passed the experimental stage and have so firmly fixed themselves in public esteem as to stand in no danger of discontinuance."
Despite Baker's optimism, a number of challenges persisted. Chief among them was the fact that, for local districts to levy a tax, they needed a near-impossible two-thirds majority, and the rate could not exceed 0.2%. Two constitutional amendments in 1908, promoted by the Conference for Education in Texas, ensure districts can levy a tax with a simple majority, and raise the maximum rate to 0.5%.
With state funding limited as a result of WWI, additional local revenue was necessary but hindered by the previous amendment. A new constitutional amendment is ratified in 1920, doing away with the limit on local tax rates, thanks to the successful "Better Schools Campaign" run by State Superintendent Annie Webb Blanton, the first women elected to statewide office in Texas.
The Baby Boom brings teachers to Austin Read more
The Gilmer-Aikin CommitteeRead more
The Gilmer-Aikin BillsRead more
Texas teachers, overburdened by the post-war "baby boom," begin lobbying for higher pay during the 50th Texas Legislative Session. Lawmakers in Austin are shocked by their sudden involvement in politics, as illustrated in this contemporary cartoon.
The Gilmer-Aikin Committee, named for two veteran legislators, is formed to the address and make recommendations regarding school finance in the interim between legislative sessions. The Texas State Teacher's Association initially opposes the work of this committee because it is chaired by State Sen. James Taylor, an opponent of the teacher pay bill in the previous session. However, they endorse the committee's recommendations once they are made public through a pamphlet entitled "To Have What We Must."
A set of bills based on the committee recommendations, called the Gilmer-Aikin Bills, is signed into law at the end of a contentious legislative session that featured intense lobbying from teachers, a floor debate that went until 5:30am, and a walkout by opponents attempting to prevent its passage. The successful effort was led by Rae Files Still, chair of the House Education Committee and schoolteacher from Waxahachie. It was the first time a comprehensive system of public school finance was implemented statewide, and many of its key features, including the Foundation School Program, are still in existence today.
Teacher pay remains an issueRead more
Demetrio Rodriguez files suitRead more
Texas school finance ruled unconstitutionalRead more
Unfortunately, the funding sources utilized in the Gilmer-Aikin program proved inadequate and the formulas used to calculate costs quickly became outdated. Teacher pay again became an important legislative topic only a few years later, but it would take a much longer time (and more precarious circumstances) before reform to this system was considered in any meaningful way.
Demetrio Rodriguez files a complaint in a San Antonio federal court on behalf of his children attending school in the Edgewood Independent School District. The district's boundaries, informed by years of segregation and racial gerrymandering, contained insufficient property values to fund itself at levels approaching those of wealthier nearby districts, even when the rate voted on by residents was significantly higher. The judge instructs the complantaint to wait for the upcoming legislative session to see if any legislative solution to this issue is presented.
Absent any relevant legislation for two sessions, the three-judge panel rules in favor of the plaintiffs: the Texas school finance system violates the U.S. Constitution's promise of equal protection. The state appeals, and the case goes to the Supreme Court of the United States.
U.S. Supreme Court reverses the decisionRead more
Attention remains elsewhereRead more
HB 72Read more
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rules that the Texas school financing system does not, in fact, violate the U.S. Constitution because that document does not gurauntee a universal right to education. Attorney Arthur Gochman compares the decision to Plessy v. Ferguson. Plaintiff Demetrio Rodriguez states simply, "The poor people have lost again." However, the Court's interpretation leaves the door open to challenges based on state constitutions, all of which have explicit educational provisions that the U.S. Constitution lacks.
Without a federal mandate to address school finance issues, the attention of the Texas legislature remains elsewhere...
With the publication of A Nation at Risk the year before, greater attention is placed on public education throughout the country. The Select Committee on Public Education (SCOPE), created by Gov. Mark White and chaired by Ross Perot, crafts HB 72. Amongst many other, more controversial policy measures (such as the "no-pass, no-play" provision keeping failing students off the field), this legislation changes the way Texas funds education by assigning "weights" to students based on circumstances that might increase the cost of their education (special needs, talented and gifted, etc.). This system of weights, as well as the values assigned to them, reamin in use today.
Edgewood v. KirbyRead more
SB 1Read more
Edgewood IIRead more
In the case of Edgewood v. Kirby, the Texas Supreme Court finds the school finance system has violated the Texas Constitution, forcing Gov. Bill Clements to call a special session to address the issue. It was not something he was wont to do, as this cartoon from the previous year suggests.
The Legislature passes SB 1, referred to informally as the "95 in '95" plan, because it will equalize yields for equal tax rates across school districts, up to the 95th percentile of wealth.
In the Edgewood II decision, made just after Gov. Ann Richards was sworn in and the legislative session began, the Texas Supreme Court declares SB 1 unconstitutional because of "its overall failure to restructure the system." By the end of the year, with the help of another special session, SB 351 is passed, creating "countywide education districts" that forced contiguous school districts to share tax yields with one another.
Edgewood IIIRead more
"Robin Hood" emergesRead more
Edgewood IVRead more
In the Edgewood III decision, made nearly a year to the day after its predecessor, the Texas Supreme Court declares the SB 351 is also unconstitutional because it violates the state's prohibition on a statewide property tax. A special session called to address the issue was unable to reach a consensus solution.
Under threat of statewide shutdown of the public school system, the legislature agrees to a plan of "recapture," or "Robin Hood," in which property rich districts are required to send some their property tax revenue to districts with far less taxable property. It's seen by nearly all involved as a stopgap, meant to appease the courts. It remains the system in use today.
Gov. George W. Bush takes a stab at an overhaul of the school finance system. It doesn't go anywhere.
Gov. Perry suggests sin taxesRead more
West Orange CoveRead more
"Texas Tax Reform Commission"Read more
Gov Rick Perry does the same, suggesting a melange of "sin taxes," including a $5 "adult entertainment tax" for anyone entering a "gentleman's club." The proposal fails.
As recapture payments continue to increase, the share of public education funding coming from the general fund decreases in turn, and more school districts are forced to increase local tax rates to their statutory maximum, $1.50 per $100 valuation. In the West Orange Cove decision, the Texas Supreme Court rules that this situation creates an unconstitutional statewide property tax rate. The ratio of state to local funding that triggered this decision is roughly equal to the differential as it exists today.
Gov Rick Perry creates the "Texas Tax Reform Commission" to find revenue sources that will allow him to bring down the maximum local tax rate and appease the court. Once again under the threat of statewide shutdown, the coterie of business leaders do what would otherwise be nearly unthinkable: suggest a set of business fanchise taxes.
$5 billion cutRead more
Morath v. Texas TaxpayerRead more
HB 21Read more
The lingering impact of the 2008 economic recession necessitates major budget cuts, including an over $5 billion cut to public education. This cut still has not been fully restored, despite the fact that it was later shown to be, in part, the result of mistakenly low revenue projections on the part of the current comptroller.
In a stunning reversal of every preceding decision on the topic, the Texas Supreme Court, in the Morath v. Texas Taxpayer decision, declared that, while the Texas school financing formula is "recondite, byzantine, Daedalean, and sclerotic," it does not, in fact, violate the state constitution's gurauntee to an "efficient system of public schools." The decision reflects not so much a significant change in the system itself, but rather a change in attitude towards it by the judiciary. To quote former Justice Brister, who served on the court during the previous round of lawsuits, "we cannot litigate our way out of this."
HB 21, a school finance reform measure passed in the house, fails to make its way through the senate. It is replaced with a promise from Gov. Greg Abbott to study the issue. Like the Gilmer-Aikin Committee, the Select Committee, and the Tax Reform Committee before it, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance is created to make recommendations for legislation to be enacted by the following legislature. Its work remains ongoing.
TEXT 'INVESTEDTX' TO 52886 TO STAY INVOLVED IN SCHOOL FINANCE REFORM