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February 5, 2013

Yesterday, State District Court Judge John Dietz declared that the Texas school funding system violates the Texas Constitution because it provides too little funding and distributes funding unfairly. Judge Dietz also ruled against pro-charter intervenors, finding a law that caps the number of charters and limits charter funding constitutional.

After the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from school funding in 2011, over 600 school districts, representing about two-thirds of Texas's five million K-12 students, sued the State. They claimed that the Texas funding system does not enable them to provide the "general diffusion of knowledge" guaranteed to all children under the State constitution.

The trial began October 22. Following closing arguments on February 4, Judge Dietz issued his ruling, finding Texas's method of funding public education unconstitutional. The State is expected to appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court, which will likely issue its decision later this year.

As quoted by WFAA TV in Dallas, David Hinojosa, lead counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), praised the ruling. "It's a great civil rights victory for the children who are learning English in our schools, and not able to achieve the standards the state has put in place." And, John Turner, the attorney representing a group of property-wealthy school districts, said, "We feel the judge made very clear that we have increased our expectations of school districts in the state, but we have not increased our resources to match."

"Texas is the latest state to have its school funding system declared unequal and inadequate to meet the educational needs of its school children," said David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. "In the last year, courts in Kansas, Colorado, Washington and Arizona have responded to the dramatic underfunding of public education by those states, which has resulted in deep cuts in staff, programs and services essential to giving students the opportunity to achieve rigorous academic standards."

In the Texas trial, several school district superintendents offered key testimony on the impact of the Legislature's decision to, simultaneously, cut funding and raise standards. Class sizes are higher and the number of students identified for remediation to pass mandatory tests has doubled in many districts. Yet, the superintendents explained, districts have less funding to help children reach the higher standards.

The court also heard testimony that, in the short term, Texas schools will run out of money to pay bills this summer unless Legislators provide a short-term appropriation of $1 billion. The chief financial officer at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) testified that the agency has asked lawmakers to authorize these supplemental funds in the coming weeks.  "The system as a whole is in bigger trouble than even we thought," Rick Gray, a lawyer for the Equity Center-member school districts, said during a break in the trial.

The pro-charter intervenors in the case relied on the testimony of the Hoover Institution's Eric Hanushek who, in dozens of other cases, has defended unfair and inadequate state funding. The state also paid $75,000 to Grover Whitehurst who testified that Texas has a "high" graduation rate and that increases in class size don't matter. Yet, on cross examination, Mr. Whitehurst admitted he authored an article calling into question a recent jump in Texas' graduation rates and he did a study praising the Tennessee STAR study that demonstrated large positive effects from class size reductions in the early grades. The testimony of these high-priced witnesses played no apparent part in Judge Dietz's ruling.

Related Stories:
Texas: Another State Failing to Provide Fair School Funding
"School Reform" Goes to Court after Texas Cuts $5.4 Billion in School Aid
What?! Hanushek Shows Up Again?
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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