The school board members complained about how some wealthy districts can raise more money at lower tax rates, creating inequities between neighboring communities. More than 600 school districts have sued the state over the way it finances schools, claiming the system is inadequate and unfair.
Kaufman resident Joseph Langston said his district charges the maximum property tax rate of $1.17 per $100 valuation and raises $5,814 per student. But the nearby Sunnyvale school district charges only $1.02 and raises $6,657 per student.
"I believe it is discriminatory. It is unfair to Kaufman residents," he said, explaining that 65 percent of the students in the district are poor. "If we had more money, we could provide a better education. We're doing the best that we can, but we're falling short of what we could do."
Attorneys for the state argued that local authorities who determine property values and the tax rate are the problem, not the system with which Texas funds public schools using a combination of local property taxes, funds transfers and sales taxes. Assistant Attorney General Bill Deane also pressed the witnesses on why per student spending varies dramatically from school to school within districts.
Randy Pittenger, a social worker who serves on the Belton school board, said different costs reflected different teacher salaries as well as the types of students each school serves. Higher spending campuses have lower income students who are harder to educate, he said.
Pittenger said his district is also charging the maximum tax rate to raise $5,946 per student, but in nearby Georgetown, the tax rate is only $1.04 and the school district there raises $6,418 per student. The higher tax rate and lower per student spending makes it difficult for Belton to attract investment in the community.
"The school district is a driver for where people choose to live," he said.
Alief Independent School District Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that he would need an additional $2,600-$2,800 per student to reach the goal of 70 percent of graduates ready for college-level courses.
"If the state expects us to deliver college-ready students, then the resources must follow the expectations. Last year, they didn't follow the expectations," he said. "We are not doing all we should to get our students ready."