orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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December 3, 2012

Expert shows school district funding disparities

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Legislature's decision to cut $1.4 billion in grants to public schools disproportionately hurt poor districts, costing them $253 per student a year compared with $21 a year for rich districts, an expert testified Monday.

Albert Cortez, policy director at the Intercultural Development Research Association, also said that Texas' poorest school districts charge higher local property taxes yet collect about a fourth less in revenue per student than the state's wealthiest districts.

He said the poorest 10 percent of districts statewide levy an average of 11 cents more per $100 valuation in local property taxes compared with the wealthiest 10 percent of districts. However, that translates to about $1,430 less in funding per student — a 25 percent difference between the two groups.

The Republican-led Legislature cut funding for Texas public schools by $5.4 billion last year, leading to larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and the elimination of full-day pre-kindergarten in most schools districts.

A report compiled by Cortez for the trial found that "limited state efforts to improve school funding over the last few years have allowed major disparities in funding among Texas districts of varying wealth to persist over time."

Legal fights over school financing are nothing new in Texas. The lawsuits at the center of the current trial are the sixth of their kind since 1984 — and Cortez has testified in all those trials. His San Antonio-based nonprofit works to strengthen public schools for all children.

Several groups of schools districts, responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's more than 5 million students, have sued Texas over the funding cuts and other policies that they say hinder public education.

Texas does not have a statewide income or property tax, so it relies on local property taxes and other state revenue to fund schools.

As part of his report, Cortez examined tax efforts necessary to generate certain levels of revenue. He found that the poorest 10 percent of school districts statewide had to tax at $1.38 to generate $7,000 per student, while the wealthiest can bring in the same amount at just 94 cents.

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