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FIVE MINUTES before the nine robed justices of the Texas Supreme Court emerged from their chambers on July 5, Edgewood and Kirby met for the last time as opposing litigants. “So we’re in court again,” Edgewood Independent School District Superintendent Jimmy Vasquez said to Commissioner of Education Bill Kirby. The two men shook hands, laughed at Vasquez’s suggestion that Kirby’s court= room appearances are becoming routine, and returned to their seats. Nothing in the encounter in the center aisle of the courtroom suggested that Jimmy Vasquez and Bill Kirby disagreed on any issue of public policy. And perhaps by early July of 1989 the Commissioner of Education had finally become a technical defendant. Two years ago, while the lawsuit was being tried, and later while it was on appeal, Kirby had defended the state’s system of funding public education. But by the end of the last regular legislative session, the commissioner seemed to be caught in a crisis of faith. This was, after all, the legislature that was expected to come to terms with a system of funding that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described in the early ’70s as chaotic and unfair. Even the most disengaged legislators of the 71st session had some sense of the urgency of resolving the school funding crisis. Not only are one-third of the state’s children attending schools in districts that can not raise the money to provide a decent education, but two years ago one of the most highly-regarded district judges in the state had ruled that to continue educating children under such a system is a violation of the Texas Constitution. And though an appellate court had overturned Judge Harley Clark’s decision, the Edgewood case was on appeal before the Texas Supreme Court for every one of the 140 days during which the legislature met in regular session. Yet at 10:30 on the final night of the session, Bill Kirby had posted himself at the southwest door of the House chamber, where, like a workaday lobbyist, he was collaring representatives and running numbers on a computer printout in hopes of convincing skeptics that the House’s timid attempt at equity would not do irreparable damage to the wealthier schools in their districts. “We were just glad to get a bill passed,” Kirby said after the House, with less than 30 minutes remaining in the regular session, passed a $450 million, two-year, equityfunding package. Both education committee chair Ernestine Glossbrenner, D-Alice, and committee co-chair Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio, warned that any bill that didn’t include a long-term funding mechanism would neither solve the funding problem nor satisfy the court. Three weeks after the 71st legislative session ended, the Supreme Court announced its intention to hear Edgewood v. Kirby on July 5. “The court already has the evidence before it,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Rudd, D-Brownfield, told a small group of reporters gathered at the back of the chamber in mid-May. At the time, moments after his amendment to Senate Bill 1019 had passed, Rudd was making the argument that if the Supreme Court decided to hear Edgewood, the justices would not take into consideration the funding bill that was being debated in the legislature. With all the evidence already introduced, Rudd contended, the court would only consider legal arguments and the merits of the two lower court rulings. \(The amendment that Rudd had passed, according to progressive legislators, gutted an already viscerally thin equity bill by removing a six-year funding mechanism, redirecting some equity money to lessneedy schools, and trimming $50 million OUNSEL, were these facts changed or altered by the last legislative session’s funding for education?” Associate Justice Raul Gonzalez asked Al Kauffman, the Mexican American Legal filed the Edgewood suit in 1984. With that one question posed in the Supreme Court chamber, it became evident how very wrong Jim Rudd and 79 other Representatives had been on May 18. The facts to which Gonzalez referred, according to Kauffman’s now-familiar recitation, include the following: Taxable wealth within the state’s independent school districts varies from $14 million per student in the wealthiest district to $20,000 per student in the poorest district. The one million children residing in the wealthier districts have two-and-a-half times the funds available to them than do the one million children attending school in the state’s poorer districts. The 300,000 children residing within the state’s wealthiest districts have 25 percent of the state’s wealth to draw on. The 300,000 at the bottom have three percent of that wealth. THE TEXAS Server JULY 14, 1989 VOLUME 81, No. 12 FEATURES Jim Wright, Gladiator By Richard Ryan 4 A Tribute to Ralph Yarborough By Ronnie Dugger \(With Lawrence Qoodwyn, Jim Hightower, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and including a speech by 6 DEPARTMENTS Dialogue 2 Editorial 3 Political Intelligence 17 Books and the Culture Notes on a Native Son By Dave Oliphant 18 Afterword In Memory of I.F. Stone By Dave Denison 22 In the state’s wealthiest district, as much as $19,000 per year is spent on each student. Poor districts spend as little as $2,100. In the 50 poorest school districts, average taxation is $.72 per hundred dollars of value and average expenditure per student is $2,900. In the state’s 50 richest districts, average taxation is $.37 and expenditure per student is $8,700. “In San Elizario,” Kauffman explained, to illustrate how badly the funding mechanism can fail, “they have a $1.07 tax rate. They have no chemistry, no physics, no calculus, foreign language, pre-kindergarten or college prep, no extra curricular, no band, choir, football, no debate. They have 96 percent low-income students. Those students are not being given a chance in this society.” And those facts, Kauffman said, have not changed. The $450 million appropriated by the legislature will not even allow the property-poor schools to keep up with inflation that has occurred since the suit was filed. The facts are so compelling that even after the Third Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs in late 1988, several attorneys who have watched the nine-justice court for years predicted that the plaintiffs would , prevail. That argument, however, was EDITORIAL Equity in the Court THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3