By Larry Briscoe
A battle is underway in Austin by school districts across the state that believe state funding for all Texas students should be equal.
Quinlan Independent School District (QISD) Supt. Micheal French is at the vanguard of the fight and testified Monday in the court case brought by the Texas student and taxpayer coalition against the state.
Tedrah Hutchins Robertson, Communications Director for the Equity Center in Austin, told The Quinlan-Tawakoni News late Monday that French did an excellent job of shedding light on the fact the problem was not a case of big-district, little-district.
“What he did was put a personal touch on testimony,” Robertson said.
She quoted French as telling the court he grew up economically disadvantaged and benefited from the free and reduced-price meal program.
Basically, he said he knew what it was like to benefit from these programs and would not be where he is today had it not been for them, Robertson said.
Steve Murdock, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau and former state demographer of Texas, had testified extensively on the changing demographics of the state, Robertson said, pointing to the 60 percent of students who would be economically disadvantaged in the future if they were not educated. She said French did “a really good job” of talking about Quinlan’s position.
The case is being heard by state District Judge John Deitz.
Supt. French said after his testimony ended Monday that the coalition’s case should end about Dec. 3 with the state then to present its defense.
“Judge Deitz would like the trial to end by mid- to late-January,” French said.
“The day started with attorney Toni Hunter questioning me for about an hour on the negative impact that inequitable funding has on Quinlan ISD,” the Quinlan superintendent said. “Much of the questioning revolved around the barriers to educating students from poverty and providing the Texas constitutional requirement to provide a general diffusion of knowledge (GDK). Research has shown that it takes at lease twice as much resources to overcome low-socioeconomic barriers.”
He said the questions also asked what QISD would do if funding was equal across the state.
“Some examples would be to decrease class size, expand early childhood, expand community outreach, update facilities, increase teacher compensation, at-risk programs, expand vocational courses and expand other instructional programs,” French answered. “The bottom line is without adequate resources, it may be almost impossible for low-funded districts to meet the new STARR standards as they increase over the next few years, thus reducing the likelihood of fully reaching constitutional GDK.”
He said the state then began a barrage of questions — ranging from could you only pay teachers on the minimum salary schedule, does facility upgrades improve education, why doesn’t the district raise taxes to cover more operations costs and more.
“The state also pointed to the district’s successes over the last few years and pressed the fact that QISD could not possibly expect to offer the same courses as larger school districts,” French said. “I responded by saying that QISD students are worthy of the same state funding that other districts across the state receive and those opportunities to reach GDK.”
He said, “I believe that no amount of efficiency would replace $4 million lost to inequitable state funding per year to QISD in comparison to some other districts in the state.”
French was also questioned by two other groups of attorneys on various topics.
“Judge Dietz asked was the current funding levels enough to reach GDK and provide true enrichment,” the superintendent said. “I responded, ‘No, considering the new Starr standards.’ He then asked, ‘Did I have anything else to share with the court?’ I responded that Texas should never place a higher inherent value on one child and a lesser value on a QISD child. All are created equal and all will be a Texas citizen and taxpayer. I ended by saying it is cheaper to educate than to incarcerate!”