A state district judge ruled today the method Texas uses to fund its schools is unconstitutional and unfair and must be overhauled.
Ruling in a suit brought by the Houston school district and other districts, Judge John Dietz said the state has not met the basic requirements of fairness in funding education.
The suit was filed in the wake of $5.4 billion in education cuts mandated in the 2011 legislative session, one dominated by newly elected Tea Party representatives and other conservatives.
Dietz did not issue a detailed ruling but instead spoke after both sides finished presenting their cases in Austin today. "There is no free lunch. We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don't," he said.
Several key players reacted to the ruling, although Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office argued on behalf of the state, did not.
"It is time for the Texas Legislature to restore the funding cuts and come up with a fair public school finance system that is easy to understand and gives kids' schools the money they need to provide the education they deserve," HISD school board president Linda Eastman said. "It's going to take courage and action on their part. We want to be part of that conversation and make sure we come up with a system that's better than what we have now."
State Senator Rodney Ellis said:
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Judge Dietz's decision affirms what most of us already know: the state of Texas continues to shamelessly shortchange our children's schools. The sad truth is that for years the state has relied on stopgap measures and focused more on tax relief than strong schools. Hopefully this latest in a long line of decisions will force the legislature to truly and systemically address the inequities in our school finance system to ensure that every child in every school -- regardless of wealth -- has access to a top-notch education.
The ruling also reinforces the simple fact that investment matters. Hopefully that spurs the legislature to take action and reverse course on last session's disastrous $5 billion cuts to our kids' schools. We need to reinstate that funding as a down-payment on a new Texas promise to our schools, and then embark on the difficult task of enacting a comprehensive school finance reform that finally ensures real investment and real improvement in education.
And Texas American Federation of Teachers President Linda Bridges said, "Today's ruling should spur the legislature to do what it ought to be doing anyway--using the state's resurgent revenue to restore school funding that was cut severely last session, and reforming the school-finance system to satisfy constitutional requirements. The inevitable appeal that the state's lawyers will pursue in this case must not become an excuse for legislative inertia. The state needs to invest more in public education immediately, because the kids can't wait."
The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.