Judge: Texas School Finance System Is Unconstitutional

AUSTIN (February 4, 2013)--The tax system Texas uses to finance public schools is unconstitutional, State District Judge John Dietz ruled Monday in Austin in a lawsuit filed by than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's 5 million-plus public school students.

After a trial that took more than three months, Dietz determined the Legislature has not adequately funded schools as required under the Texas Constitution.

In 2011, the Legislature cut $5.4 billion in funding by rewriting the formula used to distribute state money.

Dietz ruled from the bench and was expected to provide a detailed opinion later.

The attorney general's office is expected to appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court.

"Judge Dietz’s ruling on adequacy confirms what school districts have known all along," said attorney John Turner, who represented nearly 90 of the districts.

"State funding has dramatically declined at the same time that academic expectations have dramatically increased. The constitution requires that districts have access to adequate resources to ensure that all of their students have a meaningful opportunity to meet state expectations and graduate college- or career-ready," he said.

“The Supreme Court has said before that the state must provide the resources necessary to meet its own standards. We believe that Judge Dietz correctly found, after 44 days of testimony, that the state is not providing those resources today,” he said.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued a statement Monday in which he said he disagrees with the ruling, and expects an immediate state Supreme Court Appeal.

“While we await their final ruling, I will continue to work with Governor Perry, Speaker Straus, and the Legislature to continue to support our students and improve public education. Together we will ensure that Texas continues to have an accountable, efficient system of public education that produces graduates ready to compete in college and in our global economy,” he said.

But Texas American Federation of Teachers President Linda Bridges said lawmakers should act now to rectify the situation, notwithstanding the state’s plan to appeal.

“Today’s ruling should spur the legislature to do what it ought to be doing anyway—using the state’s resurgent revenue to restore school funding that was cut severely last session, and reforming the school-finance system to satisfy constitutional requirements,” she said.

“The inevitable appeal that the state’s lawyers will pursue in this case must not become an excuse for legislative inertia. The state needs to invest more in public education immediately, because the kids can’t wait,” she said.

Association of Texas Professional Educators President Deann Lee called the ruling “a victory for our state and our public schools and especially for students and their parents.”

“Judge Dietz made the only prudent decision that could be made today regarding public education funding in Texas; the system is broken, unconstitutional, and doing harm to students,” she said.

“The Texas legislature has failed to meet its responsibility to our state’s schoolchildren and provide them with the resources they need to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy,” she said.

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