By FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ
Travis County District Court Judge John K. Dietz ruled Monday that the Texas public school finance system is “arbitrary, inequitable and inadequate under the Texas Constitution,” a victory for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) lawsuit and the numerous school districts considered poor, including San Benito CISD, the 18th poorest in the state.
On Monday’s ruling, a MALDEF statement read, “… Judge Dietz criticized the State for failing to meet its obligation to provide equitable funding for children in property-poor school districts. He noted that children in property-poor districts do not have access to substantially equal access to similar revenue at similar tax efforts.”
The ruling also concludes over three months of testimony, including that of Superintendent of Schools Antonio G. Limón in Austin last fall.
In an interview that aired in November on San Benito CISD’s KSBG TV-17, Limón said he believed that the school district would see a higher success rate if it received an equal amount of money as other school districts in the state.
“I was questioned extensively by not only the attorneys that represent the districts, but also the attorneys that represent the state and feel that we have enough money we’re just not doing a good enough job, which is not true,” said Limón. “We were able to point out to the state and to the court, to the judge that’s going to make the ultimate decision that it’s not fair.”
The school district receives approximately $5,000 per student from the state, which is relatively $3,000 less than some other districts in the region. According to Limón, approximately 98 percent of the students in the school district are Hispanic while 83 percent are economically disadvantaged.
“We believe that given a level playing field, we can produce the same results as anybody in the state, but it’s not fair when some districts are getting $5,000 a student and other districts are getting $9,000 to $10,000 a student,” said Limón. “There’s just a big disparity and inequity there, and that’s what this whole lawsuit is about. We feel that every student should be given an opportunity to be successful, and that’s not happening in our great state of Texas.”
MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz expressed optimism following the ruling.
“This afternoon’s decision provides hope that Texas might one day actually invest adequately and fairly in the education of all its children,” Saenz said. “Given the size and growth of Texas, our entire nation must work to ensure that the state of Texas responds to this decision by acting immediately to fix its broken school-finance scheme.”
The initial case was filed in December 2011 as Edgewood Independent School District vs. Williams, but soon the lawsuit grew to include more than 600 school districts that claimed that the financial support provided by the Texas Legislature was inadequate following a vote by lawmakers in 2011 on funding for public education and education grant programs by approximately $5.4 billion.
“I was there yesterday when the judge made the ruling,” Limón said Tuesday afternoon. “Of the five schools represented by MALDEF, I was the first superintendent to testify, and I’m very happy that the judge ruled that way.”
However, Limón said there’s much that needs to be done before guaranteeing the level playing field he asked for in November. “There’s still a long road ahead,” the superintendent said. “As optimistic as we are, we’re still two years away from any relief. Every child in the state of Texas deserves an opportunity to be successful. Ultimately it comes down to the state legislature and whether they’re going to help the rich or help the poor.”
Read this story in the Feb. 6 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.