The Big Conversation
A major ruling on Monday marked the latest turn in a case likely to profoundly impact the future of Texas' public school system.
After three months of testimony, district Judge John Dietz ruled yesterday in favor of more than 600 school districts that had sued the state over how it funds public education.
Dietz ruled in favor of the districts on all of their major claims against the school finance system, saying the state has violated its constitution by failing to fairly or sufficiently fund public schools. In shifting the funding burden to the local level, he added, the system has created an unconstitutional statewide property tax.
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"There is no free lunch," Dietz said while delivering his ruling. "We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don't."
Uncertainty surrounding the case has prompted some lawmakers to call for delaying action on school finance this session. The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, which won't rule on the case until after this year's session ends. Another ruling against the state could force Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session, likely in 2014.
Texas officials defended the state's funding system. "I disagree with today’s school finance ruling by the district court in Austin," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a statement. "But I expect an immediate appeal to the Texas Supreme Court."
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams called the ruling "simply one step on this litigation’s path."
Others, including the plaintiffs and some superintendents and state legislators, called the ruling a win for Texas schools. One lawmaker, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said the decision should compel the Legislature to reverse the cuts to public education it made in 2011.
"Judge Dietz’s decision echoes concerns that I have heard from parents and teachers in my district and across the state," Davis said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "As a result of his ruling I believe the Legislature now has a constitutional obligation this session to restore the cuts it made to our schools."
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