(Houston, TX) // Today, Houston leaders held a press conference at Sen. Rodney Ellis’ office to discuss the Texas Supreme Court’s school finance decision and the state’s response to the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance to prevent discrimination against transgender students.
On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued its long-awaited school finance decision, ruling that Texas’ school finance system was constitutional despite it being “undeniably imperfect with immense room for improvement,” as the decision stated. Also on Friday, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance to schools on how to ensure transgender students are not subject to discrimination. That led to threats that Texas will walk away from more than $10 billion in federal education funding.
Below please find quotes for use by your publication. Photos from the press conference are available for download here.
Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston): “At a time when the Supreme Court admits that Texas’ school finance system is barely scraping by constitutionally, we can’t afford to walk away from $10 billion in federal funding that helps to feed and educate our state’s neediest kids. Let’s instead turn our focus to investing in our neighborhood schools and treating all of our students with the dignity they deserve.”
Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston): “The Texas Legislature already faces the enormous challenge next session of improving our troubled school finance system during a time when state’s budget is going to be squeezed by falling oil and gas revenues. The last thing we can afford to do is forfeit $10 billion in federal funds by discriminating against innocent transgender children.”
Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston): “The Texas Supreme Court finding that our state meets the minimum state constitutional requirements is nothing to celebrate. This is not a victory for taxpayers, this is a loss for our children. Because the Court’s opinions make it clear that there is plenty of room for improvement. It is ridiculous that we have allowed our public education system to fall so low. The Texas legislature needs to properly fund our schools ─ not just settle for meeting minimum requirements. The children of Texas deserve a system that allows them to meet the high standards we place on them.”
Rep. Coleman continued: “The President’s guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as ─ is correct. School is particularly stressful for transgendered students. Their school should be a place where they can feel safe ─ not ostracized and discriminated against. President Obama’s guidance does not put students in danger, but losing federal funding for purely political gain will hurt students in Texas.”
Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston): “LGBT students are suffering from too much bullying as it is. We do not need the Lt. Governor acting as bully in chief. He should be focusing his energies on how to bring our state up from 38th in the nation on school spending.”
Houston ISD Board of Education Trustee Anna Eastman: “To me it’s all about this quote: ‘As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.’ It’s what I said when HISD was crafting our non-discrimination policy. I hope we all can get beyond a political battle in the media and make sure we are taking care of all of our kids, so they have safe places to learn. Transgender students who are more likely to be bullied, to be homeless, to commit suicide because they are misunderstood don’t want to hurt others, they just want the same assumption of safety and comfort most of us already have.”
Philip Fraissinet, partner with Thompson & Horton LLP: “Although the decision from the Texas Supreme Court last week may have been a technical legal victory for the state, it certainly was not a victory for the children, families, and taxpayers of Texas. Although the Supreme Court was highly critical of the current public school funding system, unfortunately the Court, for the first time in decades, decided not to hold the state accountable for meeting its constitutional obligations. It will be more important than ever for citizens to engage the political process to ensure that this decision is not used as an excuse to backslide into an even more inadequate and inequitable funding system. Rather, families, educators, taxpayers, and all citizens must be the ones to challenge lawmakers to make the serious structural improvements to our funding system necessary to provide all Texas children a real chance to succeed.”
Zeph Capo, President of Houston Federation of Teachers: “It’s shameful that the state continues to play politics with Texas children’s futures. The people who will suffer are the students and teachers who are doing the best they can with the crumbs that they can pull together.”