Athens Review, Athens, Texas

November 5, 2012

Equity Center official testifies

From Staff Reports
The Athens Review

Athens — The executive director of the Equity Center, an organization founded in response to alleged inequities in the state’s school finance system, testified on behalf of the state’s poorer districts, Thursday.

State District Court Judge John Dietz began hearing testimony Oct. 22 on lawsuits filed on behalf of hundreds of school districts in response to the state’s school finance legislation.

Several Henderson County area school districts are involved in the suit.

 The largest group is called the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition. The Athens Independent School District, Eustace ISD, Kemp ISD and Mabank ISD are members that group.

The Malakoff ISD is a member of the Texas School Coalition, which as of April 12 had 84 members. The remainder of the Henderson County school districts were not involved in the legislation.

Equity Center Executive Director Wayne Pierce told the court that the poorest districts in Texas tax at a rate that is 7.8-percent higher than the wealthier districts, but receive 35 percent less in student funding.

Plaintiffs in the suit say a "patchwork" funding system that has been cobbled together over the last several years doesn't treat Texas school children or taxpayers fairly. Attorney’s for the state of Texas disagree.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the state's school finance system violates the Texas Constitution.

Pierce testified that school districts that fall in the bottom-15 percent on the wealth scale, collected an average of $5,581 per student per year. Conversely, the wealthiest district obtained $7,535 per student.

The Taxpayer Coalition suit was filed in October, 2011. It states that the state FY 2012 budget makes across-the-board reductions to the district’s regular funding.

The Plaintiffs had hoped the Legislature would address the school-funding system during the 2011 legislative session. Instead, lawmakers approved $4 billion in cuts to schools in June, the first decrease in per-student spending in Texas since World War II.