Once again, after a significant delay in issuing a written decision, a State District Judge has finally ruled in favor of over 600 school district plaintiffs that the Texas school finance method is unconstitutional, primarily because it “cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texans” and “it is financially inefficient because all Texas students do not have equal access to the education funding needed”. Now we face yet another legislative session involving almost 40% of the state budget under the cloud of a court decision that will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court for a decision that likely can’t be expected until after the session ends.
The Texas Constitution, Article VII, Section 1, says this: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
We must ask ourselves, which is the most important consideration–adequacy, equity, or efficiency? I submit the following: (1) at over $50 billion annually for approximately 5 million students, aggregate statewide funding is adequate and, in fact, public education funding from all sources over the past 15 years has increased almost twice the increase in enrollment and inflation combined, even when adding a factor for the growth in special needs students; (2) equitable funding is questionable in many ways, including between administration and the classroom, between and among many rural and urban areas, and between traditional and charter schools; (3) the “Robin Hood” finance system is a failed attempt at equity that should be abolished; and (4) the constitutional mandate for school “efficiency”, defined in terms of productivity, not some judge’s notion of “adequacy”, should have priority in driving the school finance debate.
Let’s face it–the current education delivery system is not sustainable. We cannot continue to finance this top-down, compliance and input driven system. Only when we replace it with a more competitive, deregulated, and innovative system that incentivizes educators and enables productivity with true financial accountability will we know what funding adequacy and equity really mean. This should be the priority of the legislature, not this deference to the courts in the periodic tweaking of an antiquated system.