State District Judge John Dietz of Austin issued a strongly worded ruling today in favor of the legal challenge brought by more than 600 Texas school districts against the state system of school finance. Dietz pointed to the higher achievement targets the state has imposed on school districts even as their schools face rising percentages of high-need students and suffer from stagnant or reduced funding from the state. “We either want the higher standards and are willing to pay the price or we don't,” said the judge.
Today's sweeping victory for the plaintiff school districts will be buttressed by detailed findings of fact from Judge Dietz in a month or so. Then the state attorney general will decide whether to seek a fast review by the Texas Supreme Court or take the case first to an intermediate court of appeals. Either way, it could take a year to get a definitive ruling from the high court.
Texas AFT President Linda Bridges offered this comment on the judge's ruling:
“Today a state district judge has said the evidence is clear: The state's system of school funding is unconstitutional on multiple grounds. It is inadequate, providing insufficient funding to school districts to meet state achievement targets. It is inequitable, failing to distribute school aid in a manner that gives all students a fair chance to succeed regardless of local property wealth. And it leaves rich and poor districts alike with no meaningful discretion over their local tax rates as they struggle to raise the funds to try to meet state mandates.
“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.”