An analysis of the history of school finance litigation in Texas and the effectiveness of this litigation in the attainment of an equitable and adequate education



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This study analyzes the legal decisions that emerged across the nearly 45-year spectrum of Texas public school finance court cases, culminating in the judicial opinions and legislative actions that rather than bringing fundamental reform to the system has seen the enactment of temporary stopgap measures in 2006 that threw the system into further incertitude and undermined its basic tenets of constitutionality, eliciting the eighth round of lawsuits filed in 2011 and 2012 against the State, which charge that the school finance system is inequitable, inadequate, and inefficient. This is not to say that the decades-long litigation has not produced some beneficial results. In the intervening years since the initial filing in 1968 of the Rodriguez case, Texas has seen the development of a more equitable and adequate school finance system. Following Rodriguez, the Texas Supreme Court opinions in Edgewood I (1989) and Edgewood II (1991) were instrumental in spurring the legislative reforms that increased the overall funding of the system as well as provided the larger allocations that went to low-wealth school districts. Although the litigation strengthened the gains in equity in this initial period, the subsequent Texas Supreme Court opinions produced judicial ambiguities and redefinitions that left the Texas school finance system in a continual state of constitutional uncertainty with respect to its fundamental mandate to provide an equitable and adequate education. The decisions in Edgewood IIa (1991), Edgewood III (1992), Edgewood IV (1995), West Orange-Cove I (2003), and West Orange-Cove II (2005) have nonetheless been instructive in demonstrating how the Texas school finance court cases have altered the dynamic of equality and adequacy and the basic assumptions and ideals that have defined the fundamental right to an education, with the implications that these altered policy approaches have on the distribution of educational resources for all children. Importantly, the state’s trajectory in school finance litigation offers an illustrative example of the tenuous but often contentious partisan interrelationship between the different levels of the judiciary and the legislative and executive branches of government that too often has deprived Texas public school students of an equitable and adequate education.