Civil rights advocates and educators say they are hopeful that a new state court ruling in the high-profile legal battle over education funding in Texas is the first step toward increasing resources for English-language learners. State funding for public schools—especially those serving large numbers of ELLs and poor children—has not kept pace with rising enrollment and increasing academic demands, a Texas state judge said on Monday.
David Hinojosa, a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said in a call with reporters earlier today that the ruling was "incredible" and bodes well for districts like the 12,000-student San Benito Independent school district which sits right on the Mexican border in South Texas and where a quarter of students are ELLs. MALDEF represented five school districts and the parents of four English-language-learner students in the suit that was eventually joined by scores of other plaintiffs.
Roughly 600 school districts—some two-thirds of the public school systems in the state—ended up joining the lawsuit that was filed after Texas lawmakers slashed education spending by more than $5.4 billion over the last couple of years, forcing major job cuts and bigger class sizes.
In San Benito, Superintendent Antonio Limon said those cutbacks have meant having to eliminate bilingual paraprofessionals who worked with ELLs, as well as delaying the purchase of updated curricular materials for English-learners. Hinojosa said that statewide, the budget cuts have made it harder for poorer districts to hire highly sought-after bilingual and ESL teachers.
This school finance lawsuit is the fifth filed in Texas since 1984, said Hinojosa, who is the regional counsel for MALDEF's Southwest region. The ruling, of course, is expected to be appealed, so it will likely be months, if not years, before the case is settled.