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
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
"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
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.