Judge Rules Texas Education Finance System Unconstitutional

Judge Dietz in Austin has ruled that the Texas school finance system is neither efficient nor constitutional. Of course, the Republican Attorney General Abbott is expected to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

Dietz ruled that the state had not provided adequate resources to lift students to the state’s new high standards.

“We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price or we don’t,” Dietz said.

He also found that wide disparities had emerged school districts between school districts that are considered property poor and their wealthier peers. And he said the Legislature had effectively imposed a statewide property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution.

For the first time, charter schools joined in the school finance litigation and argued that the lack of state funding for classrooms and other school facilities is unconstitutional as is the current cap limiting the number of new charter operators. Dietz said the the Legislature has discretion over both of those issues and thus did not violate the constitution.

Here’s some reaction:

Sylvia R. Garcia, Democrat for State Senate District 6:  “I’m happy that Judge Dietz recognized in his ruling today that our public schools have been drastically underfunded, but this fight isn’t over. It’s important that we have people in the Texas Legislature standing up for public schools and our children and families, and that’s why I’m running for Texas Senate.”

State Senator Rodney Ellis:  “The ruling also reinforces the simple fact that investment matters. Hopefully that spurs the legislature to take action and reverse course on last session’s disastrous $5 billion cuts to our kids’ schools. We need to reinstate that funding as a down-payment on a new Texas promise to our schools, and then embark on the difficult task of enacting a comprehensive school finance reform that finally ensures real investment and real improvement in education.”

CPPP ED Scott McCown:  “The Legislature should act now rather than wait for the Supreme Court to affirm the district court. Kids are suffering from insufficient resources unfairly divided. There is no good reason to delay fixing the problem.”

State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) Missouri City:   It’s time for the State to get serious about adequately funding our public schools. I’m ready to tackle school finance this session! Our children are our future and we need to make sure that we invest into their education.

State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D) El Paso:  “Today proved that we need to start working today to fulfill the constitutional promise — enshrined in Texas’ origin — of fair education for millions of students in the state. This ruling is evidence that Texas can do better. We’re not at the end of this journey, which started decades ago. But I hope this will be a step toward finding a solution.

“While the judge’s ruling does not solve this problem, there are some things we can do immediately. Restoring the cuts from last session to school district budgets, pre-k programs, bilingual education and other programs that are important to my constituents and to the future of the state should be a priority this legislative session.”

Gilberto Hinojosa, Chair, Texas Democratic Party:  For many, public education is the gateway to the American Dream. For Republicans, it is a political game, where they will stop at nothing in their quest to rob our children of educational opportunity. In 2011 Republicans cut five billion in school funding, even though we now know that the state had those funds available. We must reinstitute this funding immediately and examine new ways to provide equality in educational access throughout our entire state. The unconstitutional actions of Republicans have done enough harm. We must prioritize fixing our system of public education and fix it now.

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D) San Antonio:  Everyone following this trial has always realized that no matter the result, it is likely to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. But contrary to what some of my colleagues have expressed, I do not believe that is a reason to hold off on our school finance discussions in the ongoing 83rd Legislative Session. At the very least, we can start talking now about funding enrollment growth and restoring the devastating $5.4 billion in cuts that were made to public education in the previous legislative session.

Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature has a well-established history of waiting for court directives before acting on school finance. But delays just mean additional years of our school children trying to learn in overcrowded classrooms or trying to rebound from failed state mandated tests without any state supported tutoring. I say let’s act now. It doesn’t take a rewrite of the school finance formula or a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court to undo — at the least — the damage of the past two years.

 David Hinojosa, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF:  “The State of Texas set up this recipe for disaster by shortchanging the education of students in low-wealth districts and cutting funding in the face of a growing population of high-need students and increasing standards and mandates. Today’s ruling is a victory for Texas school children and the future of Texas.  We now call upon the Legislature to do what is right by investing in the students and ensuring they all have access to a high quality education.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D) Austin:  “As we await the inevitable appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, lawmakers should act now to begin addressing some of Judge Dietz’s concerns. We can re-institute programs that are known to improve student outcomes, such as full-day Pre-K and the Student Success Initiative, and restore funding levels to amounts that were in place before last session’s cuts.
Our children’s education should not be placed on hold while the Legislature waits for instruction from the courts. We have the ability—and the responsibility—to make the current funding system adequate and more equitable by restoring cuts now while also laying the groundwork for a permanent solution.”

More reaction to come…

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