Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Feeling inadequate?

Down here in Texas, we're expecting a landmark ruling from the Texas Supreme Court on the constitutionality -- that is, the adequacy and equity -- of the school finance system.

I talked to one of the lawyers that represented the school districts in the case against the state today. He said he expects a mixed decision: some areas will be found to be constitutional and others will not. This makes sense considering the Supreme Court in Texas is elected and currently has nine Republicans to no Democrats. They're conservative, want to get elected again, and quite possibly, like Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson who will most likely write the decision, they might also have larger political ambitions down the road.

That said, the system is a mess and they'd lose a lot of credibility and prestige for the judicial branch if they found the sytem totally constitutional.

Texas has substantially equalized funding for instruction. That is, about 85% of Texas schools receive about the same amount of money per student. It's unlikely -- though sad -- that the Court will demand more.

But the state has hardly done anything to bring equity to facilities and this is where, hopefully, the Court will side with the districts. As of now, the state provides aid to only about 20 of the 1,043 districts for facilities. Many disrticts, especially those in South Texas and in urban centers, cannot build adequate facilities to support classroom instruction.

In short, it's hard to teach if the building is crumbling around you. Scratch that, it's hard to teach-- period. It's near impossible to teach if the building is crumbling around you.

Dallas Morning News columnist William McKenzie believes that they should find the whole system unconstitutional. It'd be hard to disagree. To make his point, he highlights one school in Irving, outside of Dallas, MacArthur High:

When class bells ring, a sea of black, brown and white faces rushes into the halls. It's hard to imagine a better picture of Texas. The student body is a third Hispanic, a third African-American and a third white. Like Texas, it has no majority population. Everyone is in the same boat, whether they like it or not.

MacArthur also mirrors Texas for number-crunching reasons. Thanks to the state's school funding dilemma, the Irving school district had reached the top rate it can tax property owners, $1.50 per $100 in valuation. Out of ways to increase resources, MacArthur had to cut 22 teaching positions.

It did so largely by eliminating the popular block scheduling format. Instead of offering intense 90-minute class periods, Irving returned to the traditional 55-minute classes. Many of us probably grew up with 55-minute periods, but educators like MacArthur principal Tracie Fraley argue that intense, longer classes lead students to a higher level of thinking.

This is going on all over the state. Standards get raised. Accountability is demanded. Funding decreases. Seems fair, huh?

I'll post as soon as I hear about the Texas Supreme Court ruling.


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