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MISSED THE STORY. While the inpress focused on the fight over the mechanism to shift money from high-wealth to low-wealth school districts, the real story of the last legislative session was funding formulas. And nobody noticed. Funding formulas are arcane equations that determine how state money, in relation to local property tax revenue, is allocated to the state’s 1,042 independent school districts. The formulas are difficult to write about and only periodically show up in daily newspapers, explaining how each plan affects local school districts. So it’s easy to miss the big picture. The big picture was brought into focus recently when Mexican American Legal lawyer Al Kauffman, and Craig Foster of the Austin-based Equity Center, used charts and graphs to explain the school finance plan passed in the closing days of the last session. Al Kauffman is the attorney for the Edgewood Independent School District in west San Antonio, who in 1984 filed a suit challenging the state’s inequitable funding of public education. Craig Foster is the director of the Equity Center, a public policy group that represents the interest of some 300 property-poor school districts. Speaking at the Mexican American Democrats convention in Austin, Kauffman explained who the plaintiffs are and why they are returning to Judge Scott McCown’s district court on October 4. There are the original plaintiffs, property-poor districts like Edgewood, for whom, Kauffman said, the new plan provides neither long-term equity nor the opportunity to compete with other districts. There are 87 plaintiff intervenors who will ask why the new fund . ing formulas shift state dollars from poorer to wealthier districts. A small group of very wealthy districts will challenge the redistributive provisions of the finance plan and a group of individuals will “purport to represent poor people” by requesting that any new plan include state-funded vouchers for students who attend private schools. \(Count on Judge McCown to In the small cluster of the state’s poorest school districts, 95 percent of the students are Mexican American. In the 25 percent of districts with the lowest property wealth, 65 percent of the students are Mexican American. That is old news. The latest story, to anyone who thinks that the current school finance law provides equitable financing, is shocking. The new law, Senate Bill 7, required the 104 school districts with more than $280,000 in taxable wealth per student to select one of several mechanisms to lower their local wealth. The remaining 938 districts are left to mix and match local property tax revenue with state funds. Within those 938 districts there is a broad range of tax wealth. “Twenty-eight to one,” from richest to poorest, according to Foster. With that sort of disparity it seems that funding formulas would favor the districts at the bottom end of the tax-wealth scale. They do not. “Not one wealthy school district,” Foster said, “loses money because of Senate Bill 7.” The graph he used to illustrate his findings is telling. Senate Bill 351, passed during the 1991 legislative session, provided that property-poor school districts would have far more money than had been available to them in the past. “We’ve finally got enough money to be a normal district,” Edgewood business manager Earl Bolton said in the first year his district had more money per pupil than neighEven at that level, Edgewood and other lowtax-wealth districts had to play catchup, repairing old facilities and investing large sums in remedial intervention required to eduFunding formulas were all reworked last session and districts like Edgewood, San Elizario and Socorro in El Paso, the poorest of the poor, will have to increase local taxes at an average of 57 cents per $100 of taxable value to maintain last school year’s levels of revenue. Wealthier districts, like Houston and Austin, can maintain last year’s revenue levels with no tax increase. Dallas I.S.D. can reduce spending by two or three cents per $100 and still maintain last year’s level of revenue. Back toward the other end of the scale, Corpus Christi, a district with lower tax wealth, must increase taxes by about 10 cents per $100 and San Antonio, with even less wealth than Corpus Christi, will require a tax hike of more than 20 cents per $100 just to stay even. The funding formulas, unlike the revenue sharing plan, were not a last-minute solution. They were prepared in the Lieutenant Governor’s office before the failed November special session and they demonstrate that in school funding, more than in any other legislative topic, “all politics is local.” House members, the most parochial political animals in the Austin bestiary, usually “vote the printout.” They pore over the computer-generated printouts that explain how a given finance plan affects each school district in the state always highlighting “their” school districts. nil& THE TEXAS II IP, server SEPTEMBER 3, 1993 VOLUME 85, No. 17 FEATURES Don’t Breathe the Air By Carol Countryman 8 Poison Peppers By Kent Patterson 12 Gung Ho Status Quo By James McCarty Yeager 1 4 Patrolling Our Migrant Borders Roberto Rodriguez & Patrisia Gonzales 16 DEPARTMENTS Editorials 3-7 Molly Ivins 15 Books and the Culture The Bride Wore Crimson Book review by James Hoggard 20 Saints & Sinners Book review by Christopher Cook 21 Afterword Da Boyz By Louis Dubose 23 Political Intelligence 24 Since hometown gains or losses inform the vote, to win the required votes in the House funding formulas were skewered to favor the large urban school districts represented by large blocks of representatives. “We warned the leadership [in the House and Senate] what these formulas would do,” Foster said. Yet every member of the House Hispanic Caucus voted for the plan, although there was a price for unanimity. San Antonio Democrats Leo Alvarado and John Longoria withdrew from the caucus and voted no. “All the choices the rich district were given … that was not treating the poor districts as equals. And more importantly, Harlandale [I.S.D.]will have to increase taxes by 67 cents just to stay even,” Alvarado said. In the final days of the session, most legislators, like the press, were focused on the fight to shift funds from the superwealthy to the poor districts. Caucus members should have read the bill and the printouts, where for most of them equity and local politics overlapped. Leo Alvarado and John Longoria did. And so will Judge McCown. L .D EDITORIALS A School Finance Scam THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3