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Plaintiff in Historic Texas School Finance Case Remembered

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Demetrio Rodriguez played a pivotal role in the creation of what is known as the “Robin Hood” school funding system in Texas. He was the lead plaintiff in the Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD case, which was first brought in 1968.

In part, the case centered on inequality and whether children children had a constitutional right to an education.

The issue arose when students attending the poor, almost totally Mexican American Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio walked out of class, demanding better teachers and resources. They marched to the district’s administration building.

Rodriguez was a veteran and a sheet metal worker who became involved in the Edgewood Concerned Parents Association in San Antonio. According to the Texas State Historical Association, because of the area’s poverty and property tax based funding, the district was only receiving $37 per student, while wealthy children in neighboring Alamo Heights received $413 per child.

In Rodriguez, a federal district judge found the system unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned that decision. According to the historical association, Rodriguez responded by saying that “the poor people have lost again.”

However, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund tried another challenge with Edgewood ISD v. Kirby in 1984, and Rodriguez once again joined as a plaintiff. This time, in 1989, Edgewood won, and the funding plan known as “Robin Hood,” in which property-rich districts must send funds to poor districts, was born.

Rodriguez died this week at the age of 87, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

“He was my hero,” said his daughter Patricia Rodriguez, now a third grade bilingual teacher in Edgewood ISD, told the Express-News. “I would like for other people to remember him as a great warrior. Even though he wasn’t well educated, he didn’t let that stop him. It didn’t keep him from fighting for what he thought was right.”

To this day, inequalities between the communities persist. Edgewood ISD is about 98% Hispanic and 97% economically disadvantaged, and Alamo Heights is about 38% Hispanic and 21% economically disadvantaged.

In the 2011-12 school year, the academic performance gap was stark. According to the Texas Education Agency, of 10th graders initially taking the English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies exams, 80% of Alamo Heights students passed all the exams, compared with 40% of Edgewood students. Keep in mind, there are many other students who dropped out and of course were not tested.

The same year Edgewood had 506 high school seniors enrolled and 791 ninth-graders—quite a gap. Meanwhile, Alamo Heights had 353 seniors and 388 ninth-graders.

And the fight over adequate funding for Texas schools continues to rage on. Hundreds of school districts representing more than one million children have once again sued the state for inadequately funding schools. In February, a judge ruled once again that the school finance system is unconstitutional. According to the Dallas Morning News, the ruling centered on schools being inadequately funded, unequally funded and limitations on districts’ taxing levels. The state has planned to appeal.

During the trial, former Texas state demographer Steve Murdoch testified that more funding is needed, particularly because of the growing number of Hispanic and poor children in the state. Texas’ student enrollment is now about 51% Hispanic and 60% economically disadvantaged.

The Texas Legislature cut more than $5 billion in public education funding in 2011 to balance the budget.

“The debt all of Texas owes to Rodriguez can be best repaid by properly funding the state’s public schools,” wrote the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News.