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Texas High Court Blesses Excellence and Inequality

Thanksgiving Delayed

by GREG MOSES

"Next year Lord we’d love to give thanks for everybody’s freedom and equality, but in the meantime please accept our appreciation for the fact that after you adjust for race and class, some of our kids seem not too pulled down by impossible situations."

Such was the blessing spoken by the Texas Supreme Court this week as justices released a long-awaited school funding decision just in time for the American Winter Holiday Season.

To the wealthier school districts of Texas (known as the West Orange Cove plaintiffs) the court granted permission to raise local tax rates in behalf of educational excellence, in all the right neighborhoods.

To the rest of us, the court explained how the structure of funding in Texas does not make it impossible for poor districts to keep themselves accredited, and therefore the urgent pleadings from the poor districts for more support cannot be expected to rise to the level of constitutional concern.

In one sense it was a crisp and clear ruling, cutting through the panic arguments filed by the state in an attempt to steer the case away from the godawful facts that had impressed the trial judge. Panic arguments such as the court has no jurisdiction nor the districts proper standing were one by one dismissed. After all, the court had already issued a decade or more of school funding rulings all named Edgewood, after a famous San Antonio school system.

After cutting through the panic arguments, the court took the facts boldly in hand and said things like, sure, the buildings look like crap in these pictures, but what does that have to do with education? The kids seem to be passing, don’t they? It’s a bad situation, but it’s not that bad. One fourth of all school districts in Texas have not yet levied special taxes to support their own school buildings, so the question of the state’s obligation is beside the point.

This Thanksgiving, we can give thanks to a few attorneys and school districts who jumped into the lawsuit because they wanted to make sure the rich districts didn’t run away with the all the money. In that struggle, our longstanding heroes from Edgewood and Alvarado seem to have maintained a very costly line in the form of a warning from the Supreme Court that if things get much worse, well there has to be some limit to the amount of hypocrisy the court will publicly tolerate.

MALDEF was quick to denounce the decision as justice delayed for the children of Texas. With richer districts now able to enhance, their schools through higher local taxes than previously allowed, and with the legislature under no real court pressure to make things more equal (just don’t let them get much more unequal) the timeline for justice is matching up a little closer to that previously scheduled cold day in hell.

"In 2003, said the court, "Texas ranked last among the states in the percentage of high school graduates at least 25 years old in the population. Fully half the Hispanic students and nearly half the African-American students drop out during high school. In Texas, Black and Hispanic students are the majority. By the year 2040, these minorities, will constitute two-thirds of the population. But the cost of a just education is difficult to quantify said the court. Glaring challenges of high school literacy the court could not quite translate into a single legal reason for constitutional urgency.

There was a dissenting opinion: a heartfelt manifesto for justice through competition, duly applied to suggestions for competition between districts and more tax money for private schools.

BTW, all those anti-affirmative action voices who say we should really start equalizing education at the elementary level? There were so many of them hollering when the Hopwood case was news. Today they seem quite happy to note with the Texas Supreme Court that democracy is still good enough for constitutional purposes so long as you know how to properly adjust your expectations for differences of race and class.

Anyway, that’s the news from Texas. Dog bites kid. Pass the turkey please.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net