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San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez/Dissent White

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Mr. Justice White, with whom Mr. Justice Douglas and Mr. Justice Brennan join, dissenting.

The Texas public schools are financed through a combination of state funding, local property tax revenue, and some federal funds[1]. Concededly, the system yields wide disparity in per-pupil revenue among the various districts. In a typical year, for example, the Alamo Heights district had total revenues of $594 per pupil, while the Edgewood district had only $356 per pupil.[2] The majority and the State concede, as they must, the existence [p. 64] of major disparities in spendable funds. But the State contends that the disparities do not invidiously discriminate against children and families in districts such as Edgewood, because the Texas scheme is designed to provide an adequate education for all, with local autonomy to go beyond that as individual school districts desire and are able... It leaves to the people of each district the choice whether to go beyond the minimum and, if so, by how much."[3] The majority advances this rationalization: "While assuring a basic education for every child in the State, it permits and encourages a large measure of participation in and control of each district's schools at the local level."

I cannot disagree with the proposition that local control and local decisionmaking play an important part in our democratic system of government. Cf. James v. Valtierra, 402 U.S. 137 (1971). Much may be left to local option, and this case would be quite different if it were true that the Texas system, while insuring minimum educational expenditures in every district through state funding, extended a meaningful option to all local districts to increase their per-pupil expenditures and so to improve their children's education to the extent that increased funding would achieve that goal. The system would then arguably provide a rational and sensible method of achieving the stated aim of preserving an area for local initiative and decision.

The difficulty with the Texas system, however, is that it provides a meaningful option to Alamo Heights and like school districts but almost none to Edgewood and those other districts with a low per-pupil real estate tax base. In these latter districts, no matter how desirous parents are of supporting their schools with greater revenues, it is impossible to do so through the use of the [p. 65] real estate property tax. In these districts, the Texas system utterly fails to extend a realistic choice to parents because the property tax, which is the only revenue-raising mechanism extended to school districts, is practically and legally unavailable. That this is the situation may be readily demonstrated.

Local school districts in Texas raise their portion of the Foundation School Program—the Local Fund Assignment—by levying ad valorem taxes on the property located within their boundaries. In addition, the districts are authorized, by the state constitution and by statute, to levy ad valorem property taxes in order to raise revenues to support educational spending over and above the expenditure of Foundation School Program funds.

Both the Edgewood and Alamo Heights districts are located in Bexar County, Texas. Student enrollment in Alamo Heights is 5,432, in Edgewood 22,862. The per-pupil market value of the taxable property in Alamo Heights is $49,078, in Edgewood $5,960. In a typical, relevant year, Alamo Heights had a maintenance tax rate of $1.20 and a debt service (bond) tax rate of 20 cents per $100 assessed evaluation, while Edgewood had a maintenance rate of 52 cents and a bond rate of 67 cents. These rates, when applied to the respective tax bases, yielded Alamo Heights $1,433,473 in maintenance dollars and $236,074 in bond dollars, and Edgewood $223,034 in maintenance dollars and $279,023 in bond dollars. As is readily apparent, because of the variance in tax bases between the districts, results, in terms of revenues, do not correlate with effort, in terms of tax rate. Thus, Alamo Heights, with a tax base approximately twice the size of Edgewood's base, realized approximately six times as many maintenance dollars as Edgewood by using a tax rate only approximately two and one-half times larger. Similarly, Alamo Heights realized slightly fewer bond [p. 66] dollars by using a bond tax rate less than one-third of that used by Edgewood.

Nor is Edgewood's revenue-raising potential only deficient when compared with Alamo Heights. North East District has taxable property with a per-pupil market value of approximately $ 31,000, but total taxable property approximately four and one-half times that of Edgewood. Applying a maintenance rate of $1, North East yielded $2,818,148. Thus, because of its superior tax base, North East was able to apply a tax rate slightly less than twice that applied by Edgewood and yield more than 10 times the maintenance dollars. Similarly, North East, with a bond rate of 45 cents, yielded $1,249,159—more than four times Edgewood's yield with two-thirds the rate.

Plainly, were Alamo Heights or North East to apply the Edgewood tax rate to its tax base, it would yield far greater revenues than Edgewood is able to yield applying those same rates to its base. Conversely, were Edgewood to apply the Alamo Heights or North East rates to its base, the yield would be far smaller than the Alamo Heights or North East yields. The disparity is, therefore, currently operative and its impact on Edgewood is undeniably serious. It is evident from statistics in the record that show that, applying an equalized tax rate of 85 cents per $100 assessed valuation, Alamo Heights was able to provide approximately $330 per pupil in local revenues over and above the Local Fund Assignment. In Edgewood, on the other hand, with an equalized tax rate of $1.05 per $100 of assessed valuation, $26 per pupil was raised beyond the Local Fund Assignment[4]. As in previously noted in Alamo Heights, [p. 67] total per-pupil revenues from local, state, and federal funds was $594 per pupil, in Edgewood $356[5].

In order to equal the highest yield in any other Bexar County district, Alamo Heights would be required to tax at the rate of 68 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Edgewood would be required to tax at the prohibitive rate of $5.76 per $100. But state law places a $1.50 per $100 ceiling on the maintenance tax rate, a limit that would surely be reached long before Edgewood attained an equal yield. Edgewood is thus precluded in law, as well as in fact, from achieving a yield even close to that of some other districts.

The Equal Protection Clause permits discriminations between classes but requires that the classification bear some rational relationship to a permissible object sought to be attained by the statute. It is not enough that the Texas system before us seeks to achieve the valid, rational purpose of maximizing local initiative; the means chosen by the State must also be rationally related to the end sought to be achieved. As the Court stated just last Term in Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164, 172 (1972):

"The tests to determine the validity of state statutes under the Equal Protection Clause have been variously expressed, but this Court requires, at a minimum, that a statutory classification bear some rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. Morey v. Doud, 354 U.S. 457 (1957); Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483 (1955); Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe R. Co. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150 (1897); Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886)."

[p. 68] Neither Texas nor the majority heeds this rule. If the State aims at maximizing local initiative and local choice, by permitting school districts to resort to the real property tax if they choose to do so, it utterly fails in achieving its purpose in districts with property tax bases so low that there is little if any opportunity for interested parents, rich or poor, to augment school district revenues. Requiring the State to establish only that unequal treatment is in furtherance of a permissible goal, without also requiring the State to show that the means chosen to effectuate that goal are rationally related to its achievement, makes equal protection analysis no more than an empty gesture[6]. In my view, the parents and children in Edgewood, and in like districts, suffer from an invidious discrimination violative of the Equal Protection Clause.

This does not, of course, mean that local control may not be a legitimate goal of a school financing system. Nor does it mean that the State must guarantee each district an equal per-pupil revenue from the state school-financing system. Nor does it mean, as the majority appears to believe, that, by affirming the decision below, [p. 69] this Court would be "imposing on the States inflexible constitutional restraints that could circumscribe or handicap the continued research and experimentation so vital to finding even partial solutions to educational problems and to keeping abreast of ever-changing conditions." On the contrary, it would merely mean that the State must fashion a financing scheme which provides a rational basis for the maximization of local control, if local control is to remain a goal of the system, and not a scheme with "different treatment be[ing] accorded to persons placed by a statute into different classes on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the objective of that statute." Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 75-76 (1971).

Perhaps the majority believes that the major disparity in revenues provided and permitted by the Texas system is inconsequential. I cannot agree, however, that the difference of the magnitude appearing in this case can sensibly be ignored, particularly since the State itself considers it so important to provide opportunities to exceed the minimum state educational expenditures.

There is no difficulty in identifying the class that is subject to the alleged discrimination and that is entitled to the benefits of the Equal Protection Clause. I need go no farther than the parents and children in the Edgewood district, who are plaintiffs here and who assert that they are entitled to the same choice as Alamo Heights to augment local expenditures for schools but are denied that choice by state law. This group constitutes a class sufficiently definite to invoke the protection of the Constitution. They are as entitled to the protection of the Equal Protection Clause as were the voters in allegedly unrepresented counties in the reapportionment cases. See, e.g., Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204-208 (1962); Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 375 (1963); Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 554-556 (1964). And in Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134 (1972), where a challenge to the [p. 70] Texas candidate filing fee on equal protection grounds was upheld, we noted that the victims of alleged discrimination wrought by the filing fee "cannot be described by reference to discrete and precisely defined segments of the community as is typical of inequities challenged under the Equal Protection Clause," but concluded that "we would ignore reality were we not to recognize that this system falls with unequal weight on voters, as well as candidates, according to their economic status." Id., at 144. Similarly, in the present case we would blink reality to ignore the fact that school districts, and students in the end, are differentially affected by the Texas school-financing scheme with respect to their capability to supplement the Minimum Foundation School Program. At the very least, the law discriminates against those children and their parents who live in districts where the per-pupil tax base is sufficiently low to make impossible the provision of comparable school revenues by resort to the real property tax which is the only device the State extends for this purpose.


1 ^ . The heart of the Texas system is embodied in an intricate series of statutory provisions which make up Chapter 16 of the Texas Education Code, Tex. Educ. Code Ann. §16.01 et seq. See also Tex. Educ. Code Ann. §15.01 et seq., and §20.10 et seq.

2 ^ . The figures discussed are from Plaintiffs' Exhibits 7, 8, and 12. The figures are from the 1967-1968 school year. Because the various exhibits relied upon different attendance totals, the per-pupil results do not precisely correspond to the gross figures quoted. The disparity between districts, rather than the actual figures, is the important factor.

3 ^ . Brief for Appellants 11-13, 35.

4 ^ . Variable assessment practices are also revealed in this record. Appellants do not, however, contend that this factor accounts, even to a small extent, for the interdistrict disparities.

5 ^ . The per-pupil funds received from state, federal, and other sources, while not precisely equal, do not account for the large differential and are not directly attacked in the present case.

6 ^ . The State of Texas appears to concede that the choice of whether or not to go beyond the state-provided minimum "is easier for some districts than for others. Those districts with large amounts of taxable property can produce more revenue at a lower tax rate and will provide their children with a more expensive education." Brief for Appellants 35. The State nevertheless insists that districts have a choice and that the people in each district have exercised that choice by providing some real property tax money over and above the minimum funds guaranteed by the State. Like the majority, however, the State fails to explain why the Equal Protection Clause is not violated, or how its goal of providing local government with realistic choices as to how much money should be expended on education is implemented, where the system makes it much more difficult for some than for others to provide additional educational funds and where, as a practical and legal matter, it is impossible for some districts to provide the educational budgets that other districts can make available from real property tax revenues.