xstopoiwz: :vepOpv , to even out the system would be to re-districtbut, says Richards, “no one’s got the courage. There’s been a firestorm every time it’s even suggested.” Instead, the courts and the Legislature tossed proposals back and forth between 1989 and 1995, until both branches settled on the current system. During the long debate over school finance redesign, reformers have had to weigh the relative importance of raising the funding levels for property-poor districts versus achieving absolute equity. This issue split progressives in THE SIMPLEST WAY TO EVEN OUT THE the 1990 special SYSTEM WOULD BE TO RE-DISTRICT-BUT, session, during SAYS RICHARDS, “NO ONE’S GOT THE which the Eq COURAGE. THERE’S BEEN A FIRESTORM uity Center sup EVERY TIME IT’S EVEN SUGGESTED.” ported a plan that did not place any funding limitations on the wealthiest 5 percent of school districts. MALDEF opposed the plan. “It didn’t require the very wealthy to share their tax wealth,” says Kauffman. “The state had historically been raising the bottom up, little by little. Until 1991, with the County Education District plan [see box, “A Chronology of School Funding Reform”], it had never done anything to bring the top down.” As the legal and legislative battles wore on, the makeup of the State Supreme Court grew more conservative, weakening the prospects for further progress in the courts. Though District Judge Scott McCown in 1993 found the state’s system of paying for facilities was still inequitable, the Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the Legislature didn’t need to take care of the facilities issue, and it allowed wealthy school districts to spend more than poor ones. This decision finalized the so-called Robin Hood plan, which ad vocates for both wealthy and poor districts believe is flawed. Nonetheless it is “miles and miles and miles better than the system that was in place when we first challenged it,” says Gray. One objection Kauffman has to the system is its nickname: ‘Robin Hood’ implies somebody owns it and somebody else is stealing from it. The state has the authority to tax it; a school district is a creature of the state.” On a more substantial level, “there are still disparities,” he says. “Facilities never really got dealt with.” Having litigated the school finance matter for a decade, Kauffman says it’s possible he might do it again, to address the facilities disparity. Assessing facilities is much more complex than looking at revenues, but there’s a side of Kauffman, it seems, that likes to slog through data. “He’s just stubborn, just stays with it,” says Richards, who left the Edgewood case in 1990. “Tenacity is a great virtue, and he’s got it.” For now, though, Kauffman is watching the statehouse. Speaker of the House Pete Laney’s January 23 decision to create a joint revenue and public education funding committee was a good one, he says: “You have to look at them [taxes and school finance] together, and getting chairs of three major committees included is a quicker way to achieve a solution.” But Kauffman estimates that the chances of successfully redesigning the system are slim. “There are ways to have a fair system that does not rely on tax sharing,” he says. “But…I don’t see a unified movement on how to replace them [property taxes]. The major changes that Bullock was talking about, I think it’s pretty unlikely to get through in one session. There are too many interests involved.” Karen Olsson is special correspondent for the Observer. …,.. tai. 4 W.:,:-.-:-. –ci-, 1 4.11 ._ 4, Legislative Followup: In a special 1990 session, the Legislature debated various proposals before passing Senate Bill 1, which guaranteed funding for poor school districts up to approximately the level of the school district at the 86th percentile. Governor Bill Clements signed the bill in June. Edgewood Dissatisfied with the new law, the Edge wood plaintiffs returned to court. State District Judge Scott McCown found the te Governor Ann Rid in April. Edgewood Wealthy school districts challenged the CED system in court. McCown upheld the system in August of 1991, but the following January the system was found unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. Legislative Followup: In a special 1992 session, the Legislature Edgewoocl IV: Both property-poor and property-rich districts decided to challenge the new law in court. McCown upheld the law but re quired the Legislature to come up with an equitable way to pay for school facilities. In January of 1995, the Supreme Court again upheld the law and ruled the facilities problem need not be resolved by the Legislature. FEBRUARY 14, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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