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Texas lawmakers are back in Austin for another attempt to pass school vouchers. At the center of the debate is a decision on how Texas funds education.
The state’s current school funding system is so complicated and confusing that few people understand it. The remaining injustice lurks beneath the confusion.
Understanding school funding in Texas must begin with the case of Demitrio Rodriguez.
He was the first plaintiff listed in a landmark case that made it all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1973.
“He always stood up for the little guy,” his daughter, Patricia Rodriguez, said earlier this year during an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the court’s decision.
“He grew up the son of migrant workers. He himself was a migrant worker growing up, eventually coming to San Antonio to live with relatives because his own parents, my grandparents, felt he could get a better education here in San Antonio. ,” he explained. “And throughout his life, he experienced racism in all its forms and forms.”
However, in 1973, Edgewood’s parents disappeared. In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution does not guarantee equal access to education funding.
Although the decision was a major setback for the working class, Mexican-American families who filed and students who inspired it gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the case in March.
“The legacy of Rodriguez is that when the case was presented, many inequalities that existed in the system were discovered,” said Albert Cortez during the commemoration. “It’s like turning a rock and all the ugliness that lies beneath is revealed.”
As policy director for the Intercultural Development Research Association, Cortez helped lead the decades-long fight for school funding equity in Texas that followed the Rodriguez ruling.
He attended high school in Edgewood in the 60s, and remembers old textbooks, underprepared teachers, and not having enough supplies to go around. His typing class had keyboards painted on student desktops because there weren’t enough typewriters.
“We always have the feeling that we have less. And what is communicated to us indirectly, then in a way that we are less. Less meaningful. Less important,” said Cortez.
After losing the Rodriguez case, it took a 20-year battle in state court for the Edgewood families to finally find victory.
In 1993, Texas lawmakers created a court-ordered recovery called recapture. The goal of the repeal is to level the playing field between property-rich and property-poor school districts by taking some of the property taxes collected by wealthy districts and giving them to poorer ones. Critics call the system Robin Hood.
Now, recovery is important for districts like Edgewood. If it had relied solely on local taxes, the district would have had just $2,300 last year for each student. With state and federal money added in, Edgewood has nearly $11,000.
But the district still struggles to meet the needs of students.
“We have to change one of our elementary schools, one of the oldest elementary schools in the district. We need a career and technology center. Some of our buildings only require walking into the building, the vestibule for safety and security reasons,” said Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez.
‘Behind our people’
While the current school funding system gives property-poor school districts more money to pay teachers and buy supplies, it doesn’t address bonds, which are used to pay for school repairs. building.
When the Gilmer-Aikin Laws of 1949 encouraged one-room school consolidation, no one wanted to work with Edgewood. Racist housing policies have turned the district into an area of concentrated poverty.
Even today, Edgewood’s 16 square miles have no tax base in the business corridor downtown — or affluent Alamo Heights a few miles away.
“We have nothing but very modest houses in Edgewood. The value of most of our homes is not very high. It is somewhere between $40,000 and $70,000. So, we have to raise a bundle of, for lack of a better word, behind our people.
Hernandez said Edgewood hasn’t tried to go out for a bond in nearly 15 years, and even if it did, one wouldn’t go very far. He was forced to use money that would have been used for day-to-day operations to finance the building’s improvements.
“Just a year ago, we had air conditioning going out in one of our middle schools that cost over $1,000,000,” Hernandez said. “You have a water main break or you have a grease trap that’s gone. I use examples that have happened. I remember them. All of those are $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 or more.”
Despite the unexpected costs of aging buildings, Hernandez said his first priority is educating students. Edgewood has one of the highest starting teacher salaries in San Antonio, but the district has many first-year teachers.
Recently At LBJ Elementary in Edgewood, one of the first-year teachers took her students through a math lesson. The students lined up in their seats while the teacher used a screen projector to walk them through the steps to solve the multiplication equation.
“Looking at it now, I think he has a certain movement right now, like any first-year teacher,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said if Edgewood can afford it, LBJ Elementary will have an instructional coach dedicated to pedagogy to help new teachers learn how to keep students engaged.
“Someone who can coach that teacher in real time, so they can learn their craft better. Because it’s not just knowing the content, it’s how you deliver the content in a way that the student can retain the content,” he said.
In the hallway of another classroom, an experienced teacher led her 4th grade students in a song they memorized to learn the multiplication table.
“You told me 54, 63. Wait a minute. Oh! Only 72, 81, and 90 are left. I will never forget my nines. My nines. My nines,” they sang.
The teacher groups the students in pairs to read the worksheet.
“Here you have an experienced teacher. He’s amazing,” Hernandez said.
He bent down to speak to two students sitting on the carpet filling out a worksheet. “Is it easy for you? Yes and no? Do you help each other? All right, well, I’ll leave you alone. I know I’m in the middle,” said Hernandez.
The students’ responses were so quiet they were almost inaudible. In an ideal world, Hernandez said she would have many counselors to help build the kids’ self-esteem.
“A lot of times kids have a hard time speaking up for themselves,” Hernandez said. “One counselor for 400-and-something kids with all the other duties he has to do is not enough.”
Ninety-seven percent of the students at LBJ Elementary are economically disadvantaged. Almost one in four are English Language Learners. They need more resources than the average student, but according to a TPR analysis of state and federal data, Edgewood has about $1,500 less per student than the state average, and $4,000 less than the average US.
Hernandez said that if he had an additional $4,000 per student, his number one priority would be more teachers and more counseling.
Although recapture has given property-poor districts like Edgewood more funding than it did in 1993, today’s school funding system is still inequitable.
A change in the law that created something called Golden Pennies played a big part in that.
The second part of TPR’s special series, “Golden Pennies,” will examine the reasons why.