State District Judge John Dietz ruled yesterday on the most recent school finance lawsuit against the state. According to Dietz’s ruling, Texas’ school funding system is unconstitutional because the state does not fund public schools adequately or efficiently. Dietz also ruled that the lack of meaningful discretion in setting property tax rates essentially amounts to a statewide property tax, which violates the Texas Constitution.
Six separate groups, including several school districts, the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition and the Texas School Coalition, filed lawsuits against the state in 2012. Dietz ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on all of the most significant claims. However, Dietz also ruled against claims made by Texans For Real Efficiency and Equity in Education. The group’s claims argued that school choice (i.e., private school voucher programs) is the only way to make the Texas education system constitutional. The court also rejected the Texas Charter School Association’s claim that the cap on the number of charter schools should be lifted; Dietz ruled that the cap and facilities funding for charter schools were matters that should be left to the discretion of the Legislature.
Dietz’s ruling affirms what Texas school districts, parents and educators have long known: State funding has not kept up with demands. According to Dietz, the state must be “willing to pay the price” for higher standards.
“Judge Dietz made the only prudent decision that could be made regarding public education funding in Texas,” ATPE State President Deann Lee says. “The Texas Legislature has failed to meet its responsibility to our state’s schoolchildren and provide them with the resources they need to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy. This ruling is a victory for our state and our public schools, and especially for students and their parents.”
The state will undoubtedly appeal this decision to the Texas Supreme Court, and there is no timeline as to when those proceedings might end; although that appeal would be expedited, a final decision and resulting legislative action might not occur until 2014. If the Legislature chooses not to act on Dietz’s ruling before the current legislative session ends in May, students, educators and parents might not get relief until the 2014-15 school year. ATPE has advised legislative leaders to increase public education resources now in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s final ruling, instead of allowing yet another year to go by in which students and teachers are shortchanged.