October 24, 2012

An interesting battle for school choice in Texas

By Christina M. Martin Attorney

Six groups crowded into a Texas courtroom this week to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s education funding. Most of the parties just want more money, but two parties are bringing free-market based challenges. The Texas Charter Schools Association is challenging the state’s cap on charter schools, and also argues that funding for charter schools is inadequate since – unlike traditional public schools –  charter schools do not receive funding for facilities.  The argument made by the Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (TREE), however, is the most interesting.  TREE is asking the Court to declare the entire Texas school system unconstitutionally “inefficient.”

The Texas Constitution provides that the state legislature has a duty “to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”  TREE’s complaint alleges that the Texas school system is unconstitutionally inefficient. TREE lists several inefficiencies in its complaint, including oppressive regulatory and statutory burdens, laws that “make it difficult to hire and efficiently compensate the most effective teachers,” and the near “absence of competition within the system.” TREE also joins the Texas Charter School Association’s charge that the cap on the number of charter schools is arbitrary and thwarts efficiency, leaving an estimated 56,000 students on waiting lists.

In 2005, the Texas Supreme Court may have invited such a complaint when it resolved a school district’s lawsuit that sought increased funding. In Neeley v. West Orange-Cove Consolidated School District the Court noted that, “[p]erhaps . . . public education could benefit from more competition, but the parties have not raised this argument.” This time the argument has been raised and the Texas Supreme Court has the opportunity to determine what the “efficiency” requirement in the Texas Constitution means.

Of course, here at PLF, we support parents’ rights to choose the best education for their children.  Not only is it clearly more economically efficient to inject competition into the public school monopoly, but it is also the right thing to do for parents, students, and taxpayers.

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