Friday the 13th for Texas Kids

Ann Beeson

The Texas Supreme Court forecast a scary future for Texas kids with their Friday the 13th school finance decision last week. While the Court repeatedly acknowledged serious flaws in how we support public education, they refused to do anything about it. What’s the point of having a right to education enshrined in the Texas Constitution, and a third branch of government duty-bound to protect it? Having served as a constitutional lawyer for years before coming to CPPP, I am still shaking my head.

The ruling comes as CPPP has spent the spring advocating for Texas kids. Last month we launched our State of Texas Children report at a blockbuster event in Dallas, and the public officials, educators and advocates who attended welcomed our data and analysis of how to make this the best state for kids.

Last week we took State of Texas Children to San Antonio, where Mayor Ivy Taylor and County Judge Nelson Wolff helped us look at racial and ethnic disparities in how San Antonio kids are doing. Local leaders clearly understand what boosting our state investment in public education could mean.

It’s against the backdrop of our report findings – a state ranked 41st in child well-being, serious disparities between and within communities, and chronic underinvestment in public education – that the Texas Supreme Court decision dropped with a thud.

Where do we go from here? The strengths and challenges of our school finance system are the same as they were before the ruling. The Supreme Court itself spent much of its ruling highlighting areas the Legislature should fix. “Texas’s more than five million school children,” the decision says, “[…] deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.” The focus now shifts to the Texas Legislature, which will need to make meaningful investments in our schools so that all Texans have the chance to live up to their full potential.

We have been saying for quite some time that our school finance system is in need of a remodel. The basic structure of our system is actually quite strong and has some innovative elements. But it has been more than 20 years since the Legislature studied what it actually costs to meet the increasingly tough academic standards Texas has set for students. Some of the formulas we use to fund public schools have not been updated in nearly 30 years despite changing technology and student demographics.

Our great state has defeated political hurdles in the past to make commonsense policy decisions for our kids. In the late 1990’s, CPPP worked to establish the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas and then to extend the same kind of easy enrollment and renewal of Medicaid for children. Back in 1999 fewer than one million Texas children had public health insurance, and now 3.5 million are covered between CHIP and Texas Medicaid.

The Texas Supreme Court may have let our kids and our future workforce down with this decision, but I know Texans will stand up for public education and demand that legislators remodel our school finance system for the 21st century. CPPP is ready to support them with the data and policy solutions that will ensure all kids get an education worthy of Texas, regardless of where they live in our state.

A renowned social justice lawyer, former philanthropy executive, and frequent public speaker and writer, Ann Beeson joined the Center in 2013. She was previously the Executive Director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations, where she promoted human rights, justice, and accountability nationwide. Beeson was the national Associate Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she worked from 1995-2007. She argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court, litigated numerous cases around the country, and launched groundbreaking programs to stop the erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security and to protect free speech and privacy on the Internet. Beeson has been recognized as one of the nation’s top lawyers by American Lawyer Magazine and the National Law Journal. A proud Texan, Beeson has embraced a wide range of innovative strategies to advance social change. Before joining the Center, she launched a new non-profit to involve the creative sector in social change. In 2012-13, she was a Senior Fellow and Lecturer at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas, where she co-produced a public media series to inspire more people to get engaged in their communities. She grew up in Dallas, Texas, and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Texas. Beeson obtained her law degree from Emory University School of Law, and served as law clerk to the Honorable Barefoot Sanders, then chief judge of the Northern District of Texas.


  • Well done Ann and it was a sad day making for what could be terrible consequences for millions of Texas children and their concerned parents (like me). If there is anything we should do now, or in the future, to address this challenge and make sure Texas does the right thing, please let us know. Thank you!

    John 19.05.2016
  • The State of Texas and Child Welfare as a whole should open the eyes to who we have elected. Think about it. For years we’ve had the highest mortality rate of children in CPS hands than any other State. Governor Abbott just cut a bunch of rehabilitation programs for children through CHIPs. The Southern Poverty Law Center has acknowledged Texas for having the highest percentage of growth in Hate Groups. And our A.G. has how many indictments for corruption.
    Is there hope? And is it only for the wealthy?

    A good friend of mine in Austin who recently passed away. Was a visiting judge for the juvenile courts. He shared the blank stares he would get from these kids in trouble with the law.

    He brought to attention something he said the State would ignore. That is how the growing amount of Hispanics and Blacks needed more money spent on the education and community development for the future.

    Judge Charles Webb started a non profit with this focus in mind.

    Without looking at all sides you’ll be blinded when Texas is overburdened with a huge financial collapse.

    Bridges to Brooklyn 25.05.2016
  • […] Better Texas Blog forecasts a scary future for Texas’ children as a result of that ruling. […]

  • This column is peppered with the term “high-quality education.” While I am in total agreement that our students deserve such education, it is time that we define “high-quality education.”
    It is obvious that by the information share in this column we do not have some of the author’s underscored key indicator parameters helping define “high-quality education.” It is also obvious that since we do not know to what we think our students must have to succeed, we can’t estimate a cost.
    To me this is the key and crucial issue; let’s pause the “need more funds” campaign, and spend more fruitful time re-stating what we want out students be like. Once that is done, work to re-engineer education under the tenets of W. Edwards Deming continuous improvement process.

    Jose Boix 31.05.2016

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