AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Texas cut millions of dollars in funding for more than 100 students in a border school district because of false claims that the students live in Mexico, the school district claims in court.
The Progreso Independent School District sued the Texas Education Agency and its Commissioner Michael L. Williams in Travis County Court on Tuesday, alleging violations of the Texas Education Code and Texas Constitution.
Progreso ISD is in Hidalgo County, near the Mexico border. Crossing the border to Nuevo Progreso, Mexico is a daily event for many residents of the city of Progreso, the school district points out in its complaint.
The district has 2,157 students, of whom 99.7 percent are Hispanic, 99.4 percent are economically disadvantaged, and 54.3 percent English-language learners.
Both Spanish and English are linguas francas along the Texas-Mexico border.
The Foundation School Program (FSP) is the primary source of state funding for Texas school districts, according to the Texas Education Agency website. The program is supposed to give school districts "substantially equal access to similar revenue per student at similar tax effort."
But the Progreso ISD says the TEA continually adjusts school districts' FSP funding "in the form of credits and debits based on revisions to attendance data and changes to other inputs into the school finance formulas."
The TEA withheld millions of dollars from Progreso ISD for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, after an audit of its attendance records, which, the state claimed, showed that the district was educating students who were residents of Mexico.
The basis for these allegations was that TEA investigators saw students being taken by private vehicles from Mexico to school in Progreso ISD in the mornings and returning across the border to Mexico at the end of the school day, according to the complaint. The investigators supposedly followed the vehicles from the campus.
The TEA gave Progreso ISD its preliminary findings in a June 25, 2014 letter that included a list of students who allegedly live in Mexico.
The list had 102 students for the 2011-12 school year and 130 students for the 2012-13 school year. TEA also claimed that Progreso ISD staff had provided it with a list of students who "resided in Mexico and attended school in the Progreso ISD."
The district disputes this and says its employees merely gave TEA a list of students who rode in private vehicles across the border.
The TEA then demanded $1.8 million in alleged overpayments for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, and said it would review the district's 2013-14 data.
Progreso ISD submitted a written response on July 11, 2014 that "refuted these allegations," the district says in the 45-page complaint.
The district claims that the TEA then "changed its position and decided to withhold funding because the district's policies regarding residency were allegedly inadequate."
The district disputes that as well, says it has "the same policy regarding proof of residency as do 737 other school districts in Texas."
It also claims that its own investigation, which included home visits, showed that "the vast majority of these students were residents of Texas living in the district and were properly admitted to the district."
It also challenged "the legality of TEA's position regarding the district's purposed [sic] duties and obligations to monitor residency status after enrollment."