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State supreme court rules new school funding system unconstitutional

January
22
1991

On this day in 1991, in the landmark civil-rights case Edgewood ISD v. Kirby, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state's system of public school funding was unconstitutional. The case began in 1984 when the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed suit against state education commissioner William Kirby on behalf of the Edgewood Independent School District, citing discrimination against students in poor school districts. The plaintiffs contested the state's reliance on local property taxes to finance its system of public education, contending that this method was intrinsically unequal. In 1989 the Texas Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to implement a new system by the 1990-91 school year. The legislature finally reached consensus in June 1990 and approved a bill to increase state support to public schools by $528 million. The plaintiffs, however, were dissatisfied and asked for another hearing in the Travis County District Court, which agreed that the new legislation did not provide "substantially" equal access to public school funds, and instructed the legislators to come up with another system. The state appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. Following the January 22 ruling, the legislature devised a new plan that consolidated the state's 1,058 school districts into 188 county education districts to assure that public money spent per student would be equal. Exactly one year later, however, on January 22, 1992, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the new plan was illegal. In May 1993, the legislature passed a multi-option plan for reforming school finance. The Texas Supreme Court eventually ruled that the options plan was constitutional but that the legislature still needed to work on equalizing and improving school facilities throughout the state.

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