Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Judge Rules Texas' School-Funding Method Unconstitutional

The following is excerpted from the Texas Tribune and was written by Morgan Smith. This post also contains the official ruling by the Judge as well as the judge's remarks. This is a very important decision concerning the funding of education in the State of Texas and will have far reaching impacts across the country. In addition, the judge also ruled on 3 issues related to charter schools which will have statewide and potential national impact. -Dr. Petrosino
In a decision certain to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, state district Judge John Dietz ruled Monday in favor of more than 600 school districts on all of their major claims against the state's school finance system. With a swift ruling issued from the bench shortly after the state finished its closing arguments, Dietz said that the state does not adequately or efficiently fund public schools — and that it has created an unconstitutional de-facto property tax in shifting the burden of paying for them to the local level.

"There is no free lunch," he said. "We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don't."

Dietz said that issues raised by another party in the lawsuit, Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education — a group representing parents, school choice advocates and the business community that argued the current system was inefficient and overregulated — were better solved by the Legislature. He also declined to find the state cap on charter school contracts, or the charters' lack of access to facilities funding, unconstitutional.

Moments after Dietz spoke, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams issued a statement emphasizing that the ruling is "simply one step on this litigation’s path."

“All sides have known that, regardless of the outcome at the district level, final resolution will not come until this case reaches the Texas Supreme Court," he said. "I’m appreciative of the strong case presented by the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the state. The Texas Education Agency will continue to carry out its mission of serving the students and educators across our state.”
Though he did not rule in favor of TREEE's claims, which challenged the statutory cap on charters, the alleged overregulation of public schools and the state's system for rating for financial accountability, Dietz said that they should "bear the Legislature's scrutiny."
The judge, who is expected to issue a more detailed decision in several weeks, did not elaborate further on his ruling against the charter school plaintiffs. He said that it was within the Legislature's discretion to fund charter schools differently than traditional public schools, and that any disparities in funding "do not rise to the level" of unconstitutionality.
The executive director of the Texas Charter School Association, David Dunn, issued a statement in response to the ruling Monday evening.

“We are disappointed that Judge Dietz ruled against charter school students and their parents, denying them constitutional protections,” he said. “They have the same constitutional right to facilities funding as every other Texas public school student.  Parents and students do not give up their right to facilities funding by choosing the best public school option for their child.  However, we are thrilled that the judge ruled the overall public education system, of which charters are an integral part, inadequate.”
After a 12-week trial, Judge John Dietz took only moments to agree with schools that the current funding mechanism violates the state Constitution.
"It was a great relief," said Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, an organization of some 675 of the school districts arguing that the system is "hopelessly broken."
Texas does not have a state income tax and relies on local property taxes to fund schools. A so-called "Robin Hood" scheme, enacted in 1993 as a result of an earlier lawsuit, requires schools with more resources to share with those in poorer districts.
Plaintiffs such as Wayne Pierce say lawmakers should not wait to act.
"The longer you wait before you fix the system that funds [kids'] education, the more you hurt them," Pierce says. "And if we have to wait two more years before this goes through the full process, there are sophomores in high school right now that will not benefit one day."
Some state lawmakers had already begun making contingency plans, setting aside some money in case they need to increase funding. But even after Monday's ruling, Republican Sen. Kel Seliger — who sits on the state Senate Finance and Education committees — says the debate on the nature of the fix will continue.
"The judge said [the current system] was unconstitutional, but he did not prescribe any remedies," Seliger says. "We're just going to have to come up with a remedy that may not be a preferred one but that it is constitutional.

Judge John Dietz's Remarks In School Finance Ruling: CLICK HERE 


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