August 29, 2014 in Nation/World

Funding for Texas schools condemned

Will Weissert Associated Press
 

AUSTIN, Texas – A judge declared Texas’ school finance system unconstitutional for a second time Thursday, finding that even though the Legislature pumped an extra $3 billion-plus into classrooms last summer, the state still fails to provide adequate funding or distribute it fairly among wealthy and poor areas.

State District Judge John Dietz’s written ruling reaffirms a verbal decision he issued in February 2013. He found then that the state’s so-called “Robin Hood” funding formula fails to meet the Texas Constitution’s requirements for a fair and efficient system that provides a “general diffusion of knowledge.”

Dietz’s final, 21-page opinion took the extra step of blocking Texas from using portions of its current system to pay for schools – but also put that order on hold until next July. That gives the Legislature, which reconvenes in January, an opportunity to “cure the constitutional deficiencies,” the ruling says.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which had argued that the system was flawed but nonetheless constitutional, said Thursday that the state will appeal.

Dietz wrote that the Legislature “has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools” because the funding system is “structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren.”

The case grew out of the Legislature’s cutting $5.4 billion from public education in 2011, prompting more than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of Texas’ 5 million-plus public school students to sue.

They claimed they no longer had sufficient resources to educate students. The lawsuit cited Texas’ school enrollment growth of nearly 80,000 students per year due to a booming population and the Legislature’s increased demands for standardized testing and lofty curriculum requirements to graduate high school.

Schools in rich and poor areas were on the same side in the case because the Robin Hood system requires districts with high property values to turn over part of what they collect in property taxes to poorer districts. Poor districts said that wasn’t enough, while schools in wealthy areas argued that voters often refuse to approve local tax increases they might otherwise support since much of the money would go elsewhere.

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