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February 4, 2013

Judge: Texas school finance is unconstitutional

 

AUSTIN (AP) — The system Texas uses to fund public schools violates the state’s constitution by not providing enough money to school districts and failing to distribute the money in a fair way, a judge ruled Monday in a landmark decision that could force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for education.

Shortly after listening to closing arguments, Judge John Dietz ruled the funding mechanism does not meet the constitutional requirement for a fair and efficient system that provides a general diffusion of knowledge.

The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. This was the sixth case of its kind since 1984. In 2005, Dietz found the previous funding system unconstitutional and directed the Legislature to devise a new one.

At issue in this case are $5.4 billion in cuts to schools and education grant programs the Legislature imposed in 2011, but the districts say simply restoring that funding won’t be enough to fix a fundamentally flawed system.

They point out the cuts have come even as the state requires schools to prepare students for standardized tests that are getting more difficult and amid a statewide boom in the number of low-income students and those who need extra instruction to learn English, both of whom are more costly to educate.

“There is no free lunch. We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don’t,” Dietz said. He has promised to issue a detailed, written decision soon.

The trial took more than 240 hours in court and 10,000 exhibits to get this far.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said Dietz’s decision confirms what his party has been saying all along.

“Hopefully this latest in a long line of decisions will force the legislature to truly and systemically address the inequities in our school finance system to ensure that every child in every school — regardless of wealth — has access to a top-notch education,” Ellis said in a statement.

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