Updated 10/25/2012 07:11 PM
Educating minority, underprivileged students crux of week one in school finance lawsuit
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At the heart of the first week of the school finance lawsuit, which will ultimately affect not only Texas taxpayers but 75 percent of the state’s student population, is how to ensure underprivileged and minority children are given the same quality education as students in more economically advantaged districts.
Former State Demographer Robert Murdock testified if a resolution isn’t reached, it will cost the state $11.4 billion a year in lost tax revenue over the next several decades.
The only way to eliminate that scenario is to mend the earnings gap between whites and minorities, according to Murdock.
Also a former director for the U.S. Census Bureau, Murdock is representing nearly two-thirds of the state’s school districts in the school finance trial, set to run into January in State District Judge John Dietz’s courtroom.
Murdock says if things stay status-quo, the average household income could decline more than $7,700 by 2050, meaning $300 less per family each year in revenue generated through taxes.
The districts Murdock is representing are asking for more funding, attributing a rising population boom, layoffs and difficult standardized testing requirements to poor education statewide.
Officials with the more than 600 school districts across Texas said the cost of education for low income and minority families is taking the largest block of taxpayer money. They say the disadvantaged students often need remedial programs and are learning English as a second language.
Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund or MALDEF attorney David Hinojosa, believes he is fighting the good fight for minorities to have a fair chance in Texas schools.
"And the only place we can address it, because the Capitol doesn't want to address it for the school children, is the courtroom," he said. "All students should have the same educational resources but unfortunately our state does not want to do that."
As a grade school student, the second generation immigrant attended Edgewood schools in San Antonio during the 1980s. The Edgewood School District is known for the landmark 1984 case, Edgewood vs Kirby -- spurring the school finance bill known as "Robin Hood." To this day, Edgewood is considered a property poor district.
Three decades later, Texas has leveled the classroom playing field, spending on average $7,200 per student.
Murdock told the court during the trial’s first week it’s a problem that isn’t going anywhere -- the state’s population rose by nearly 4.3 million between 2000 and 2010, with Hispanics making up 85 percent of that number.
He also added the Lone Star State will see an increase of 9.3 million students by his spotlighted year of 2050. Also at that time, the student population will be 64 percent Hispanic, with a 15.5 percent white population and an 8.5 percent African-American makeup.
While stakeholders like Murdock emphasize a rise in household income to get a handle on quality education control, the state’s attorney general’s office argues the responsibility lies within independent school districts.
Americans for Prosperity Director Peggy Venable
Americans for Prosperity Director Peggy Venable points out that for the 2012-2013 school year, Texas shelled out $50 billion for public education. She says the money needs to be spent more wisely.
"More money has been placed in the public education system that ever before," she said."We have been increasing our spending at a rate five times faster than pupil enrollment."
Attorneys for the state told the court Texas schools had been funded beyond the rate of inflation and enrollment growth between the years 2006 and 2010, and if they didn’t overspend during those years, perhaps the $5.4 billion cut of 2011 wouldn’t seem so significant.
For Hinojosa, he says increased spending is needed to deal with a booming immigrant population, and impoverished children, as he once was.
"I think it's a shame that only 50 cents of every classroom dollar is spent in the classroom,” he said. "I wonder what their future looks like, especially the way we continue to fund their schools in the way that we do."