|Back to Jan. Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 228||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JANUARY 2005|
|School Funding Litigation|
Alabamians Vote No to Opening |
Education Spending Floodgates
The vote was so close that a recount was ordered. Both the original and the recounted margins of defeat were fewer than 2,000 votes statewide.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said of the proposed amendment: "This is the most deceptive piece of legislation I have ever seen, and it is simply a fraud on the people of Alabama." The unwanted language concerned whether there is a constitutional "right to an education," which has given rise to numerous activist judicial decisions requiring school spending increases.
Opposition to the amendment was complicated by the combination of the "right to an education" language changes with language eliminating racist "Jim Crow" provisions (which had been unenforceable for many decades). Opponents of the changes concerning the "right to an education" were fully supportive of eliminating the racist provisions, but because all the changes were part of the same ballot measure, opponents had the delicate task of explaining to voters why they had to oppose the measure as a whole. They succeeded.
As the Education Reporter reported in October, about half the states face various court cases concerning school financing. Another 21 have only recently settled similar suits, and most will start litigating again soon. Only five states have avoided litigation entirely. Spending lawsuits began in the 1970s, when they focused on equalization of spending between rich and poor districts. (The Economist, 11-25-04)
By the 1990s, the focus of spending litigation shifted from the allocation of resources to demanding a subjectively "adequate" overall level of spending and education, often in reliance on general phrases in state constitutions. Plaintiffs are winning most of the cases despite the constitutional argument that tax-and-spend decisions are solely a legislative prerogative.
Kentucky is still in court 16 years after the first decision there. A 1981 lawsuit filed against New Jersey was decided four years later but has returned to the court nine times since, including in 2004. "Courts have moved from broad principles to micromanagement, telling schools how much money to spend and where - right down to the correct computer or textbook," The Economist reports.
After adjusting for family income and English skills, "Texas has one of the best-performing educational systems in the nation," he told the court. "People expect us to eliminate this [performance] gap when it's caused by something that schools have no control over." (statesman.com, 9-13-04)
In a separate development concerning Texas school funding litigation, a study by Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby has concluded that a 10-year attempt by education finance lawyers to reduce per-pupil spending disparities in Texas schools by means of a so-called "Robin Hood" scheme has produced a smaller spending gap but also resulted in the destruction of an estimated $81 billion worth of property wealth.
The soon-to-be-abandoned Texas program involved the forced redistribution of about $30 billion annually in school property taxes, taking from so-called "property-rich" districts and giving to "property-poor" districts. Hoxby's analysis shows the plan did not succeed in equalizing per-pupil spending throughout Texas, although it did reduce the gap between the highest-spending quartile and the lowest-spending quartile from about $2,000 to $1,500 per pupil.
That $500 reduction was achieved at a cost of $27,000 per pupil in property value destruction across the state. This destruction resulted from increased property taxes in the wealthier districts, which depressed real estate values, leading inevitably to additional tax increases (and further declines in real estate values) as revenues fell short of projections.
"Good intentions about redistribution are not enough in school finance: understanding the economics is important too," write Hoxby and Ilyana Kuziemko in their July 2004 report, "Robin Hood and His Not-So-Merry Plan: Capitalization and the Self-Destruction of Texas' School Finance Equalization Plan."