HOUSTON -- Even though a court has threatened to shut down the Texas public schools June 1 unless the state divides money for education more equitably, voters rejected yesterday a plan that would have forced some wealthy districts to share money with poor ones.
The defeat of the proposed amendment to the state constitution, Proposition 1, throws back to the Legislature the vexing question of how to ensure a decent education for the 3.2 million children in the Texas school system, the nation's second-largest after California's.
Saturday's vote, part of a struggle over school financing that has gone on for 25 years, gives the lawmakers 29 days to agree on a new approach before a state judge makes good on his vow to withhold all public money from the school system and close it until an acceptable solution is found.
All previous solutions offered by the lawmakers have been thrown out by judges as insufficient. The state Supreme Court has ordered that changes be made because, it said, the current system has such egregious spending disparities that they violate the Texas constitution's guarantee of "an efficient system" for "the general diffusion of knowledge."
The defeat of the proposed amendment, which anti-tax groups labeled the "Robin Hood Plan," came by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, with 1,292,964 votes against and 756,546 in favor.
The proposal would have made it constitutional to shift some property tax money from richer to poorer school districts.
The measure met strong opposition in rural counties and predominantly white, upper-middle-class suburbs.
The defeat also resulted in part from voter apathy. Nearly three times as many Texans lined up for a shot at the $50 million state lottery Saturday as turned out at the polls.
The turnout was low despite the fact that the election also gave voters an opportunity to select someone to fill the term of former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, now the Treasury secretary.