337 F.Supp. 280 (W.D.Tex. 1971), Civ. A. 68-175, Rodriguez v. San Antonio Independent School Dist.

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 68-175
Citation:337 F.Supp. 280
Party Name:Rodriguez v. San Antonio Independent School Dist.
Case Date:December 23, 1971
Court:United States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Southern District of Texas
 
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Page 280

337 F.Supp. 280 (W.D.Tex. 1971)

Demetrio P. RODRIGUEZ et al.

v.

SAN ANTONIO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT et al.

Civ. A. No. 68-175-SA.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas

Dec. 23, 1971.

As Clarified Jan. 26, 1972.

Arthur M. Gochman, San Antonio, Tex., for plaintiffs.

Crawford Martin, Atty. Gen., State of Texas, Pat Bailey, Asst. Atty. Gen., State of Texas, Austin, Tex., Raul Rivera, San Antonio, Tex., for defendant, Edgewood Independent School Dist.

Page 281

Before GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge, SPEARS, Chief District Judge, and ROBERTS, District Judge.

PER CURIAM:

Pursuant to Rule 23, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, plaintiffs bring this action on behalf of Mexican American school children and their parents who live in the Edgewood Independent School District, and on behalf of all other children throughout Texas who live in school districts with low property valuations. Jurisdiction of this matter is proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343. This Court finds merit in plaintiffs' claim that the current method of state financing for public elementary and secondary education deprives their class of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 1

Edgewood and six other school districts lie wholly or partly within the city of San Antonio, Texas. Five additional districts are located within rural Bexar County. All of these districts and their counterparts throughout the State are dependent upon federal, state, and local sources of financing. Since the federal government contributes only about ten percent of the overall public school expenditures, most revenue is derived from local sources and from two state programs-the Available School Fund and the Minimum Foundation Program. In accordance with the Texas Constitution, the $296 million in the Available School Fund for the 1970-1971 school year was allocated on a per capita basis determined by the average daily attendance within a district for the prior school year.

Costing in excess of one billion dollars for the 1970-1971 school year, the Minimum Foundation Program provides grants for the costs of salaries, school maintenance and transportation. Eighty percent of the cost of this program is financed from general State revenue with the remainder apportioned to the school districts in "the Local Fund Assignment." Tex.Educ.Code Ann. arts. 16.71-16.73 (1969), V. T.C.A. Although generally measuring the variations in taxpaying ability, the Economic Index employed by the State to determine each district's share of "the Local Fund Assignment" (Tex.Educ.Code Ann. arts. 16.74-16.78) has come under increasing criticism. 2

To provide their share of the Minimum Foundation Program, to satisfy bonded indebtedness for capital expenditures, and to finance all expenditures above the state minimum, local school districts are empowered within statutory or constitutional limits to levy and collect ad valorem property taxes. Tex.Const. art. 7, §§ 3, 3a, Vernon's Ann.St.; Tex.Educ.Code Ann. art. 20.01 et seq. Since additional tax levies must be approved by a majority of the property-taxpaying voters within the individual district, these statutory and constitutional provisions require as a practical matter that all tax revenues be expended solely within the district in which they are collected.

Within this ad valorem taxation system lies the defect which plaintiffs challenge. This system assumes that the value of property within the various districts will be sufficiently equal to sustain comparable expenditures from one district to another.

Page 282

It makes education a function of the local property tax base. The adverse effects of this erroneous assumption have been vividly demonstrated at trial through the testimony and exhibits adduced by plaintiffs. In this connection, a survey of 110 school districts 2a throughout Texas demonstrated that while the ten districts with a market value of taxable property per pupil above $100,000 enjoyed an equalized tax rate per $100 of only thirty-one cents, the poorest four districts, with less than $10,000 in property per pupil, were burdened with a rate of seventy cents. Nevertheless, the low rate of the rich districts yielded $585 per pupil, while the high rate of the poor districts yielded only $60 per pupil. As might be expected, those districts most rich in property also have the highest median family income and the lowest percentage of minority pupils, while the poor property districts are poor in income and predominately minority in composition. 3

Data for 1967-1968 show that the seven San Antonio school districts follow the statewide pattern. Market value of property per student varied from a low of $5,429 in Edgewood, to a high of $45,095 in Alamo Heights. Accordingly, taxes as a percent of the property's market value were the highest in Edgewood and the lowest in Alamo Heights. Despite its high rate, Edgewood produced a meager twenty-one dollars per pupil from local ad valorem taxes, while the lower rate of Alamo Heights provided $307 per pupil.

Nor does State financial assistance serve to equalize these great disparities. Funds provided from the combined local-state system of financing in 1967-1968 ranged from $231 per pupil in Edgewood to $543 per pupil in Alamo Heights. There was expert testimony to the effect that the current system tends to subsidize the rich at the expense of the poor, rather than the other way around. Any mild equalizing effects that state aid may have do not benefit the poorest districts.

For poor school districts educational financing in Texas is, thus, a tax more spend less system. The constitutional and statutory framework employed by the State in providing education draws distinction between groups of citizens depending upon the wealth of the district in which they live. Defendants urge this Court to find that there is a reasonable or rational relationship between these distinctions or classifications and a legitimate state purpose. This rational basis test is normally applied by the courts in reviewing state commercial or economic regulation. See, e. g., McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961); Williamson v. Lee Optical of Oklahoma, 348 U.S. 483, 75 S.Ct. 461, 99 L.Ed. 563 (1955). More than mere rationality is required, however, to maintain a state classification which affects a "fundamental interest", or which is based upon wealth. Here both factors are involved.

These two characteristics of state...

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