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Lined up on the other side of the school finance issue are the Texas Education Agency, the state attorney general, and a bevy of wealthier school districts, including those represented by Austin attorney Jim Turner. “Basically our intent in the lawsuit is to show the court that Texas possesses one of the most equitable systems of school finance in the country and that the present system is in full compliance with the Texas Constitution,” said Turner, who represents 22 districts, including Eanes and Lake Travis in Austin, Longview in East Texas, and Rankin in West Texas. “I think their contention is that the amount spent per child in Texas on education should be equalized to a greater extent than it is currently. Our position is that under House Bill 72 \(the Texas took great strides toward equalization and with its enactment became one of the leaders in the country in terms of school finance,” Turner said. Plaintiffs admit that some progress was made through HB 72, but they say the Texas system still leaves a yawning gap between the richest and poorest school districts, which results in a “tremendous disparity in resources available” to school children. Documents filed by the plaintiffs state: The wealthiest district in Texas has almost $13 million in property per student while the poorest has less than $20,000 per student. The 500,000 students in the richest districts in the state draw on 37 percent of the state’s property wealth to finance their education. The 500,000 students in the poorest districts draw on only 5.4 percent. A tax increase of one cent per $100 valuation in districts in which the top 500,000 students attend school will raise $475 per student. Where the poorest 500,000 attend school, a one cent increase per $100 in property raises only $7 per student. That means the poorest districts bear the heaviest tax burden, plaintiffs claim. Mary Lenz is a longtime Observer contributor who lives and writes in Austin. In addition these districts often bear the heaviest burden in terms of children who need expensive special education programs. Plaintiffs contend that the state school finance system especially discriminates against Mexican Americans, a disproportionate number of whom live in low wealth districts, “and who have long suffered from intentional and systematic discrimination” in the public schools in Texas. Numerous studies show Mexican Americans lagging behind on test scores, percentage of high school graduates, and percentage of college gradu-‘ ates. The Mexican American Task Force on Higher Education says 35 percent of Anglos have attended some college, but only 17 percent of Mexican Americans have done so. The average Mexican American has attended school for about eight years, while the average Anglo has 12 years of education. Pan American University President Miguel A. Nevarez, who chaired the task force, said statistics on Mexican American participation in higher education reveal a “shocking pattern of disadvantage and neglect,” showing Texas’ second largest ethnic group has “systematically been denied the advantage of participation” in the higher education system. Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund attorney Al- Kauffman said only five to ten percent of Anglo students are projected to fail the TEAMS minimum skills test in Texas, but 25 percent of Mexican American students appear to be destined to fail it. The Texas Research League notes that in school districts where 75 percent of the students’ are black or Hispanic \(which logic tells you are mainly the “dramatically lower than the statewide average.” Districts with even 20 percent minority enrollment show below-average TEAMS scores, the research league says. The question is whether this unfortunate record can be laid at the door of the Texas school finance system. Kauffman admits that it’s hard to show a mathematical correlation between dollars spent and student achievement: “But the superintendents will tell you they need more teachers of certain types, and that costs money. They need better facilities, and that costs money. They need to be able to compete for the best teachers, and that costs money. They need training and upgrading and more education for their teachers, and that costs money.” Norma Cantu of MALDEF says “If one school has a teacher who has a PhD and the other one has a teacher who just graduated from college, you can see the difference in how the classroom is managed. If you’ve got real overcrowding and a teacher who doesn’t have a conference room to meet parents in, or who doesn’t have an off-hour during the day where she can have relative quiet to grade papers, it’s going to affect the quality of education.” Turner said that he is not sure that this particular court fight is the arena in which to battle over the relationship between dollars and student achievement. “The issue in the lawsuit is whether or not the Texas system violates the Texas Constitution. Our own constitution authorized school districts in the state to assess local property taxes. That THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7 The Shame of the Schools