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Fix it: School lawsuit highlights our sad state of affairs

By Longview News-Journal
Oct. 23, 2012 at 11 p.m.

We've pointed out many times how poorly the Legislature performed in its last session - especially when it came to funding our public schools.

Of course, that is a political opinion. Others will argue the Legislature did the right thing by slashing $5.4 billion from school funding as part of its efforts to avoid a tax increase.

But now, more than 600 school districts are in court asking a state district judge to declare the Legislature's actions are not just poor performance, but are unconstitutional. That raises the situation to another level.

Stop and think for a moment about what these suits represent. The 600-plus school districts involved represent roughly two-thirds of all the districts statewide. Yes, school districts have sued the state before. But never so large a percentage of the total.

And think about this: Each of the districts is governed by a board of trustees, usually seven members, sometimes more. The trustees are elected by voters within the district and often are business owners and community leaders, the same kinds of people who sit on the board of the chamber of commerce, or help run the United Way. These are regular folks, people who just want good schooling provided and usually have no axe to grind.

In this case, a majority of these regular folks - who usually would be averse to filing suit against anyone - have found it necessary to sue their own state because they see its handling of its responsibility to education to be so bad it actually violates the state constitution. We know from discussions with area school administrators the step has not been taken lightly, and that before joining the suit, many tried to talk sense into individual legislators.

So now the school districts, which are funded by local taxpayers, are suing the state, which also is funded by taxpayers. They are fighting, and the rest of us are paying.

What's wrong with this picture? Sadly, many things.

The arguments at the core of the school districts' suits are these: Funding cuts have left them without the revenue they need to meet the state's mandates and higher testing standards. And our state's constitution says the state must provide its students with an adequate education.

Regardless whether you agree with them, having 600 districts as plaintiffs should give us all pause to consider just what is going on. This much is clear: Texas school finance is a mess that more cutting and political posturing won't fix. It will take hard work by a Legislature that recently has seemed happy to use gimmicks and games to get through its agenda.

No matter what comes of this suit, all of us are on the hook. If the districts win, we will pay more because the funding will have to be corrected. If the districts lose, it means we go forward with a bad funding plan and disputed testing plans. Either way, taxpayers and children lose.

This is no way to run a public school system. The sad fact now is funds that should be going to instruction instead are going to pay lawyers. Funds and effort that could be used to work toward a solution instead is being spent elsewhere.

We believe Texas can do better. We would like to see some proof of that in the form of serious moves toward mending our state's school finance system when the Legislature convenes in January.



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