Wealthy districts sue over school finance

December 9, 2011 10:02:21 AM PST
A coalition of about 120 property wealthy Texas school districts filed a lawsuit against the state Friday, alleging that its system of paying for public education is inadequate and unconstitutional.

Six school districts, ranging from Lewisville and Richardson in North Texas to Aransas County on the coast, are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is being handled by the Texas School Coalition, which is made up of school districts that give money back to the state under the so-called Robin Hood school funding plan.

The lawsuit proclaims "the Texas school finance system has reached a crisis stage again."

The schools argue that because so many districts are taxing at the maximum allowable rate, the school property tax has effectively become a statewide property tax, which is unconstitutional in Texas.

The state is "co-opting the school districts' taxing authority, so it's become a de facto state property tax," said Mark Trachtenberg, one of the attorneys representing the school districts.

The schools also argue that the Legislature hasn't been putting enough money into the system to meet the constitutional mandate for an "adequate" education.

"They're failing to provide the resources to provide an adequate education under the state's own standards," attorney John Turner said.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman at the Texas Education Authority who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning.

Another coalition of schools filed a similar lawsuit in October, alleging the system is unfair, inefficient and unconstitutional.

That one accuses lawmakers of turning a blind eye to the state's troubled school financing system for years and exacerbating the flaws this summer when they slashed public school spending by more than $4 billion to close a massive budget gap.

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