Suing to undermine, not improve, the public schools

The many school districts, parents and other plaintiffs filing multiple school finance lawsuits against the state over the past 30 years have tried to force the Legislature to improve the public schools. A motion filed late last week in the latest round of litigation has a different smell to it. It seeks to hasten the job of dismantling public education.

If the latest plaintiffs, a group calling itself Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (or TREE), have their way, the attack on public schools, already being waged at the statehouse by Gov. Perry and the legislative majority, will continue in the courts. These plaintiffs aren’t interested in boosting public resources to improve educational opportunities for all students. They want instead to divert tax dollars to make it easier for a relatively small group of parents to send their children to charter schools and maybe private schools as well.

Austin businessman James Jones, one of the leaders of the group, admits to being inspired by Waiting for Superman, a documentary that came out a couple of years ago suggesting (wrongly) that problems with public education could be magically solved if more children would win lotteries for admission to charter schools. What the movie failed to point out was that charters, as a whole, are no more successful than traditional public schools. And, the vast majority of children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, regardless how many charters of varying degrees of quality pop up on the landscape.

The group’s vice chairman is former State Rep. Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, a strong advocate of siphoning tax dollars for private school vouchers who wore out his welcome with his former constituents a couple of elections ago.

And, the group’s supporting cast is infiltrated with former staffers for Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, both of whom insisted on the $5.4 billion in cuts that the legislative majority inflicted on the public schools last year. This cast of characters wants to give the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately will decide the school finance litigation, the opportunity to complete their public education wrecking campaign.

“Our suit is about the outcomes for the children rather than just the inputs to the system,” said Chris Diamond, one of TREE’s lawyers. What he and his clients won’t admit, however, is the more tax support the charter and private school advocates take from the public schools, the more the outcomes (i.e. quality preparation for the future) for the vast majority of Texas children will suffer.


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