West Orange-Cove Consolidated I.S.D. v. Alanis, Dkt. No. 02-0427 (Travis County Dist. Ct. Nov. 30, 2004).
Four wealthy school districts filed a lawsuit claiming that the provision of the education finance system that controls local tax rates, requiring them to tax at the maximum allowable rate in order to finance their public schools, violates the State constitutional prohibition against a State property tax. The District Court of Travis County dismissed the case on July 11, 2001, and the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal in 2002. The dismissal was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court in 2003, West Orange-Cove Consolidated I.S.D. v. Alanis, 107 S.W.3d 558 (2003), and remanded for trial.
Since the remand order, a coalition of twenty-eight school districts - both property rich and low-wealth districts - have joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the Texas school finance system. In September 2004, a Texas trial court found that the state-funding scheme for public education violates the constitutional requirement that the State provide sufficient and equitable funding for public schools. The State currently contributes only 38% of all education spending in Texas. The trial court found that the finance system does not provide enough money for schools charged with meeting higher state and federal standards, and that lower test scores among low-income students indicate a widening gap in educational achievement between rich and poor districts. The court has given the legislature until October 2005 to enact a new school funding formula. The Opinion of the trial court is available online at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/legal/FinalJudgmentWOC1.pdf.
Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Meno, 917 S.W.2d 717 (Tex. 1995) (“Edgewood IV”).
The Supreme Court of Texas held that the legislature met its obligation to provide a constitutional education by equating a "general diffusion of knowledge" with the provision of an accredited education. Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Meno, 917 S.W.2d at 730. The system established by the school finance legislation was found to be financially efficient, defined as "substantially equal access to funding up to the legislatively defined level that achieves the constitutional mandate of a general diffusion of knowledge." The Court further held that an efficient system does not require equality of access to revenue at all levels.The Court declined to "prescribe the structure for an 'efficient system of public free schools,'" stating that the duty belongs to the legislature, but held that "if the cost of providing a general diffusion of knowledge rises to the point that a district cannot meet its operations and facilities needs within the equalized program, the State will, at that time, have abdicated its constitutional duty to provide an efficient school system." Id. at 747-48.
Carrollton-Farmers Branch Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist., 826 S.W.2d 489 (Tex. 1992) (“Edgewood III”).
Suit was brought by property-rich districts challenging the constitutionality of the state's new school finance system on different grounds than those raised in Edgewood I and II; namely, that the levying of an ad valorem tax and the creation of county education districts violated other provisions of the constitution. The Supreme Court of Texas held that the new school finance system imposed an unconstitutional state property tax, but made clear that it did not withdraw from the holdings in Edgewood I and II.
Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Kirby, 804 S.W.2d 491 (Tex. 1991) (“Edgewood II”).
In Edgewood II, the Supreme Court of Texas reviewed the school funding system enacted by the state legislature in response to Edgewood I. The Court found that the new system left the same gaps between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts as the system struck down in Edgewood I, without any attempt to equalize access to funds among districts, and again found the school finance system unconstitutional.
Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Kirby, 777 S.W.2d 391 (Tex. 1989) (“Edgewood I”).
The appellate court decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas, which held unconstitutional the state's school financing system, under which forty-two percent of revenues came from districts in which the value of property was approximately 700 times greater than that of the poorest districts, and where district spending per student varied from $2,112 to $19,333. The Court found that this system violated the state constitutional requirement that an "efficient" system of public schools be created so as to provide for "general diffusion of knowledge." The Court set forth the standard by which all subsequent legislation would be measured: districts must have "substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar levels of tax effort."
Kirby v. Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist., 761 S.W.2d 859 (Tex. Ct. App. 1988).
The Court of Appeals of Texas held that "the district court [had] erred in concluding that education is a 'fundamental' right." 761 S.W.2d at 864.