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Parents and New Education Group Intervene in Texas School Finance Litigation

 
 

Called by many the "Waiting for Superman lawsuit", plaintiffs ask court to declare school system unconstitutional due to lack of efficiency

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Today in the 200th Judicial District Court in Travis County, a group of parents and a new education group named Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education led by three Texas entrepreneurs, intervened in current school finance litigation. In papers filed with the court, the plaintiffs claim that the current school system is not "efficient" as required by the Texas Constitution.

Speaking for the plaintiffs, lead attorney Chris Diamond said his clients' intervention is different from the current four lawsuits filed by school districts. "The Texas Supreme Court, in past school finance rulings, has issued a wide invitation for structural, qualitative reform that extends beyond the singular question of adequate funding," Diamond said. "It ruled that the question of funding is secondary to the question of structural efficiency. Our suit asks the court to decide whether the current system is efficient as required by the Texas Constitution. We believe the system does not meet that requirement."

Joining Diamond as co-counsel is former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig T. Enoch.

Diamond specifically cited language from the Neeley v. West Orange Cove's majority opinion issued by the Texas Supreme Court, which included:

"In Edgewood III, we explained that 'although issues brought before us in Edgewood I, Edgewood II, and now Edgewood III, have all been limited to the financing of the public schools, as opposed to other aspects of their operation, money is not the only issue, nor is more money the only solution....'" [Emphasis added]

"...'efficient' conveys the meaning of effective or productive of results and connotes the use of resources so as to produce results with little waste." [Emphasis added]

"It is true that the plaintiffs and intervenors here have focused on funding . . . [w]e cannot dictate how the parties present their case or reject their contentions simply because we would prefer to address others."[Emphasis added]

"...We have not been called upon to consider, for example, the improvements in education which could be realized by eliminating gross wastes in the bureaucratic administration of the system." [Emphasis added]

"If someone is ready to argue that our system of schools is cost effective, I believe Texans are ready to challenge that notion," said Diamond. He pointed to recent data publicly released by Texas House Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler indicating that school funding has increased by $62 billion after adjusting for inflation and student growth over the past 13 years.

The lawsuit also targets equity in Texas' education system. While current lawsuits by school districts focus on equitable funding for schools and their ability to get additional funding, Diamond says that his clients' suit seeks equitable access to education for all Texas families regardless of their zip code. "The fact that we have media reports of nearly 60,000 children stuck on waiting lists for charter schools, with parents unable to pull their kids out of a school they don't believe meets their kids' needs, makes it clear that the system is not treating families equitably."

Diamond believes the courts should be given the opportunity to address how the system of public schools treats kids across the state, rather than just being asked about funding among those school districts. "Our suit is about the outcomes for the children rather than just the inputs to schools," he said.

Plaintiffs in the case include five Texas families from different areas of the state, including a former teacher. These include: Joyce Coleman of Houston who has three children in two different public charter schools and one traditional public school; Danessa Bolling of Houston with a child in an underperforming traditional public school; Lee and Allena Beall of San Marcos who have three children they placed in private school (despite struggling to pay for it because they didn't believe their children's public school was meeting their needs); Joel and Andrea Smedshammer of Mansfield who have two children in public charter schools and one on a public charter school waiting list (Joel is a former public school teacher in the DFW area); and Darlene Menn of Odem with a child with special needs in a traditional public school.

Another plaintiff is Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (known as TREE), a new group formed by three Texas entrepreneurs, including one former ninth-grade teacher. The group's website is www.EduEfficiency.org.

Created for the sole purpose of funding this litigation, TREE's chairman and founder is James Jones, owner and CEO of American Land and Minerals. A father of a pre-school aged daughter, Jones was recently inspired by the documentary Waiting for Superman to dedicate his personal time and resources to the cause of saving children who are trapped in dysfunctional and inefficient public schools in Texas.

"You can't watch Waiting for Superman and not want to do something to help families with kids stuck in failing schools," said Jones. "Imagine if a parent didn't think their child's physician was meeting their kid's needs and the law made it nearly impossible for them to change doctors. We owe it to our kids to do better than this."

Other members of TREE's board of directors include Lawson Boothe and Adam Boyd. Boyd, a former ninth-grade English teacher at Travis High School, is a business consultant at Market Sense and has a pre-school aged child. Boothe, a sixth-generation Texan with three children nearing school age, is CEO of the medical software company Vital Interaction.

The board recently retained Kent Grusendorf as TREE's executive director. A former member of the State Board of Education and Chairman of the Texas House Education Committee, Grusendorf will help raise money and oversee the organization's work towards its mission.

SOURCE Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education

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