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School financing . around the country. We will concentrate on the Rodriguez decision both out of home state chauvinism and because the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Rodriguez case \(presented Oct. 12, this next year, probably in March. The essence of the Rodriguez decision is that the education of a child shall not depend on the wealth of his neighbors. The court ordered an end to wealth discrimination on the basis of the 14th The court did NOT order that expenditures for each child be equal across the state. Instead it came up with a standard called “fiscal neutrality,” meaning that the quality of public education may not be a function of wealth, other than the wealth of the state as a whole. The court gave the Legislature two years to come up with a school financing system in accord with the 14th Amendment, leading some pessimists to predict back-to-back special sessions all through next year. In order to implement the Rodriguez decision, the state will not only have to re-vamp the method by which school funds are disbursed, but also, in order to achieve an equitable arrangement, will have to come up with a new way of collecting the money. And the collection end of the bargain offers potential for major tax reforms, particularly in the area of property taxes, a hot political subject. But the special interest groups are already, naturally, better organized on this issue than the public interest groups. There are two points that should be considered before we begin to discuss the alternative systems now being proposed. The first is that there is a chance, ranging from zilch to excellent, depending on your source, that the Supreme Court will not go along with the Rodriguez decision. The Nixon Court is getting tougher all the time, which is the major reason why the Texans who brought the Rodriguez suit raced to get it to the Court instead of waiting for lower courts to guild up a thick wall of Rodriguez-like decisions: they were afraid more Warren Court members would retire. Best betting is that the Rodriguez case has four solid supporters on the Court: the plaintiffs are praying for a swing man and they may not get one. In the South particularly, we have gotten so accustomed to not doing anything about social injustices until we are ordered to do so by the federal courts that many Texas officials are taking the attitude that we should do nothing about school financing until the Supreme Court rules, and if it rules against Rodriguez, we should do nothing, period. However, without being ‘unduly Pollyannaish, it seems likely that on this issue there is so much public resentment at the inequities, particularly inequitable property taxes, that the impetus for reform is there no matter how the high court rules. One possible check to such reform is the reliable Texian resentment against federal “interference”. Letters to the editor will be called for if the Dallas Morning News and its ilk start griping that the “courts are telling us what to do again” without looking at the merits of the case for reform. As important as the possibilities offered by the Rodriguez decision are, it does not, in the opinion of some of the state’s progressive educators, address itself to the school financing principle most needed. The San Antonio court specifically rejected the idea that school expenditures should be determined by educational needs. The idea is also called compensatory education or reverse discrimination, and it just means that them that needs the most, get the most. The court said it is too difficult to define “educational needs.” Particularly in the black, brown and poor white districts in this state, equalization of aid is not likely to make up for years of “benign neglect,” to call it by the kindest name. It’s as though there were a race from Houston to Chicago, with the whites aboard a fast train and the blacks and browns on an old bike. Half-way through the race, the judge decides that’s not fair, so he gives the _blacks and browns a train too. But their train picks them up at the point they have gbtten to on their bike, so even when their train starts to go just as fast as the white train, they don’t have a chance of catching up. You will find that the most progressive systems of alternative financing include some provisions for funding on the basis of educational needs. NOW, LET’S TAKE a brief look at what the judges in San Antonio saw that led them to hand down the Rodriguez decision. \(For a more thorough account, see Obs. school districts in Bexar County are Edgewood and Alamo Heights. In the Edgewood district, which is predominantly black and brown, the market value of property per student is $5,429. In the white Alamo Heights district, it is $45,095 per pupil. Edgewood, with the highest property tax rate of any district in Bexar County, raises $21 per pupil, Alamo Heights, with the lowest rate, raises $307 per pupil. 2 Statewide, the inequities are even worse than in San Antonio. There are 1,149 school districts in Texas, clearly a lunatic situation, but you must remember that the figure has come down from almost 5,000 in the last few years, courtesy of the school consolidation program. The districts range in wealth per student from $1,000 to $10 million, a 10,000 to one ratio. The districts spend from $300 to $1,700 per pupil. About 300 districts are worth more than twice the average property market value, while some 200 have less than half the average market value. They vary in size from three students to more than 200,000. Eighty-nine percent of the students are in 367 of the districts, while 11 percent are in 812 districts. 3 In theory, local property taxes provide 20 percent of the revenues for schools while the state comes up with 80 percent. But the state only comes up with 80 percent of something called the Minimum Foundation Program, which is plenty minimal. As a result, districts that can afford them have “local enrichment” programs furnished by property tax money, which in some areas account for half the school funds. But the inequities do not stem solely from the differences among school districts in amount of taxable property. The MFP was originally designed to be something of an equalizing factor in educational spending. But over the past 23 years, the MFP has become so pocked with special exemptions and special credits and special benefits that the Texas Research League, which is no bleeding-heart outfit, calls the MFP “a majority of exceptions.” There is no point in trying to understand how the MFP works: in the first place, it’s impossible, 4 and in the second place, it probably won’t be around much longer. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t work. In terms of school districts, the MFP is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. There are some federal funds available to local school districts which are distributed along more equitable lines, but they account for less than 10 percent of school funding and cannot possibly make up for the disparities produced by the property tax and the MFP. One of the easiest ways to sell reform of school financing is to promise property tax relief. But it’s a dangerous game, because the truth is that no one really knows yet what the proposed alternatives will cost. The Texas Research League, and the Senate Committee to Study Public School Finance are now working on computer program models and methods of statistical analysis that will enable them to say how much which system will cost in terms of whose taxes. But the breakdowns are not yet available, although the Research League does have some total cost estimates. Everyone agrees that bringing the state into line with the Rodriguez decision is going to cost money, unless we decide to bring all the good districts in the state down to the level of the bad districts, an option that is educationally insane and politically impossible. Archie Roberts of the Texas State Teachers Association set up hackles at a recent meeting when he suggested that TSTA’s proposal is “fair to December 15, 1972 3