Demetrio Rodriguez, a sheet metal worker from San Antonio who became one of the earliest champions in the decades-long fight for equity in public school funding, has died at 87, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
Rodriguez was the lead plaintiff in Rodriguez et al vs. San Antonio ISD, a federal lawsuit filed over the equity issue more than 40 years ago by a group of parents from Edgewood ISD, one of the poorest districts in the state. The plaintiffs won a strong ruling from a federal court in 1971, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. The high court agreed that Texas’ method of funding its public schools was lousy but said the problem wasn’t a federal issue.
Rodriguez never gave up, and within a few years, the school funding issue was being fought in state courts, where it continues to be fought today. Rodriguez also was an original plaintiff in the better-known lawsuit, Edgewood vs. Kirby, which was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in state district court in the mid-1980s.
Ruling for Rodriguez and the other plaintiffs in 1989, the Texas Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that found huge inequities in funding between property poor and wealthy school districts and ordered the Legislature to change the system.
The Legislature enacted the so-called “Robin Hood” law that still requires wealthier districts to share property tax revenue with poor districts. But after a series of subsequent lawsuits, large inequities remain. In the most recent suit, filed after the Legislature slashed $5.4 billion from the public education budget, state District Judge John Dietz of Austin ruled earlier this year that the funding system also is woefully inadequate.
The state is appealing Dietz’s ruling to the current Texas Supreme Court, some of whose members have decidedly different political and legal viewpoints than the nine Democratic justices who issued the first Edgewood ruling in 1989.
Rodriguez’s daughter, Patricia Rodriguez, a third-grade bilingual teacher in Edgewood ISD, said her father fought the school funding fight for his children and others like them.
“He was my hero,” she told the Express-News.
And, he was a champion for thousands of other Texas school children.