On May 13, the Texas Supreme Court found that funding for Texas public schools does, in fact, meet the absolute bare minimum required by the Texas Constitution. Despite the ruling, the onus is on Texas lawmakers to substantially improve funding for Texas public schools.
The plaintiffs, comprised of over half of the public school districts in Texas, alleged that budget cuts enacted by the legislature in 2011 kept schools from meeting the “adequacy” and “suitability” requirements for public education in the Texas Constitution and Education Code. However, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that because the threshold for public schools was “adequate” — and not “best possible” — there was insufficient evidence to find the current school finance system unconstitutional.
Our public schools are “adequate” at most, y’all.
Simply meeting the minimum constitutional requirements was far from a ringing endorsement from the Court. The justices disparaged the convoluted school finance system and urged lawmakers to enact meaningful changes, writing that Texas children “deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”
However, the lack of directives from the Court renders impotent any movement for comprehensive school finance reform in the upcoming legislative session. For a state with a history of education budget cuts, the minimal affirmation of the current system gives the legislators little incentive to entangle themselves in a battle between angering voters by increasing taxes and facing yet another lawsuit from the school districts.
Despite the challenges, lawmakers have no other choice but to reform. While enrollment has surged, public school staffing is down and Texas ranks 38th in the United States in per-student spending. Despite time to adjust to standardized tests with more stringent standards, passing rates on STAAR tests have stagnated. These current levels of funding will quickly become insufficient thanks to Texas’ increasing population of economically disadvantaged students. As Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman noted, just because the court found the system “good enough now,” the ruling “does not mean that the system is good or that it will continue to be enough.”
The merits of a strong public education system easily outweigh any political and economic obstacles of reform. Education has distinct economic benefits, ensuring higher incomes that translate into less dependence on public assistance and higher standards of living for all.
An “adequate” public education system simply cannot support a state with a burgeoning young population. If lawmakers want to ensure Texas continues to progress, they have a responsibility to vastly improve public education. The 6 million (and counting) children in Texas deserve better.
Nemawarkar is a Plan II, psychology and government sophomore from Austin.