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January 22, 2014

The trial in a school funding case brought by over half of Texas's school districts, responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's five million public school students, began January 21st. At issue are the plaintiffs' claims that the state funding system both under funds public education and distributes funding unfairly.

David Hinojosa, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), who represents some of the plaintiff school districts stated, "The State of Texas cannot continue to avoid providing the educational opportunities Texas children need to succeed. We are saddened, though confident, that the testimony will show that Texas's school finance system remains unfair and unconstitutional."

In 2011, the legislature raised academic standards and simultaneously slashed state funding for public schools by $5.4 billion. After these cuts, about 600 of the over 1,000 school districts in Texas filed lawsuits claiming that it was not possible to meet the state standards and provide adequate education to their students with the diminished resources. They argued that the under funding violated the Texas Constitution.

In early 2013, after a lengthy trial, Judge John Dietz issued a ruling from the bench, in which he held that the state's school finance system was arbitrary, inequitable and inadequate under the Texas Constitution. He detailed gross inequities for property-poor school districts and failures of the system for low-income and English Language Learner children. He also held that the system created a de facto state property tax, which is illegal in Texas.

In response, the legislature restored $3.5 billion of the $5.4 billion cut during its 2013 session. Judge Dietz then decided to hold a supplementary hearing to examine the effect of legislative changes to the state's system that were made after his initial ruling.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "The Texas Legislature chose to administer a band-aid rather than engage in the major surgery required to ensure equity in the state's public school system. We are confident that the court will see through the inadequate legislative changes and once again determine that Texas has much to do before satisfying its own constitution's imperatives in public education."

"The Legislature in Austin needs to decide to invest more in the educational system and target that investment to meet students' needs," said David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center. "They are not providing adequate funding or allocating it fairly under the current funding system."

The trial is expected to take about three weeks, and Judge Dietz has said he wants to issue his decision by early April.

Related Story:
Slam Dunk Victory for Texas School Children
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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