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Law School Case Brief

Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Kirby - 777 S.W.2d 391 (Tex. 1989)

Rule:

In construing a provision of the Texas Constitution, the court considers the intent of the people who adopted it. In determining that intent, the history of the times out of which it grew and to which it may be rationally supposed to have direct relationship, the evils intended to be remedied and the good to be accomplished, are proper subjects of inquiry. However, because of the difficulties inherent in determining the intent of voters over a century ago, the court relies heavily on the literal text. The court seeks its meaning with the understanding that the Constitution was ratified to function as an organic document to govern society and institutions as they evolve through time.

Facts:

School districts in Texas derive revenues from local ad valorem property taxes, and the state raises funds from a variety of sources including the sales tax and various severance and excise taxes. There are glaring disparities in the abilities of the various school districts to raise revenues from property taxes because taxable property wealth varies greatly from district to district. The wealthiest district has over $14,000,000 of property wealth per student, while the poorest has approximately $20,000; this disparity reflects a 700 to 1 ratio. The 300,000 students in the lowest-wealth schools have less than 3% of the state's property wealth to support their education while the 300,000 students in the highest-wealth schools have over 25% of the state's property wealth; thus the 300,000 students in the wealthiest districts have more than eight times the property value to support their education as the 300,000 students in the poorest districts. Petitioners, school districts, children enrolled in those districts, and parents brought an action against respondent state offals declaring that Texas's school financing system violated Texas Const. art. I, §§ 3 and 19, and art. VII, § 1. Although the trial court entered a judgment in favor of petitioners, the appellate court reversed. Petitioners wought further appellate review.

Issue:

Was the trial court correct when it ruled that the school financing system violated the Texas Constitution's equal rights guarantee of article I, section 3, the due course of law guarantee of article I, section 19, and the "efficiency" mandate of article VII, section 1?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court reversed the appeals court ruling and affirmed the trial court order, except with respect to its implementation date, because the existing funding system did not address what the court found to be glaring disparities in the abilities of various school districts to raise revenues from property taxes. The state's school financing system is neither financially efficient nor efficient in the sense of providing for a "general diffusion of knowledge" statewide, and therefore that it violates article VII, section 1 of the Texas Constitution. Efficiency does not require a per capita distribution, but it also does not allow concentrations of resources in property-rich school districts that are taxing low when property-poor districts that are taxing high cannot generate sufficient revenues to meet even minimum standards.  There must be a direct and close correlation between a district's tax effort and the educational resources available to it; in other words, districts must have substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar levels of tax effort. Children who live in poor districts and children who live in rich districts must be afforded a substantially equal opportunity to have access to educational funds

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