Judge Rules Texas School Finance System Is Unconstitutional

August 28, 2014

A judge declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional again 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 school districts in wealthy and poor areas.

State District Judge John Dietz's written ruling reaffirms a verbal decision he issued from the bench in February 2013. He declared 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."

He also found then that the system levies local property taxes in a way tantamount to a state income tax, which is also constitutionally prohibited.

Dietz's ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court by state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office — a process that should take months. If the high court again rules against the state, it will be up to the Legislature to design a new funding method. But the appeals process may not be over until well after the 2015 session has ended.

The case grew out 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 curriculum requirements to graduate high school.

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