Last year the Texas school finance system was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that it is inadequate, inequitable, and inefficient. This week, State District Judge John Dietz has reopened evidence in the case to determine if actions made by the 2013 Texas Legislature resulted in any substantial changes to the school finance system.
The primary plaintiffs in the case argued that though the Texas Legislature took a step in the right direction, with a partial restoration of funding, it was too small a step and huge funding disparities still exist between property poor and property wealthy districts. As the Equity Center’s lawyer Rick Gray, who Texas Tribune reporter Morgan Smith quotes in her story, said, “Any and all funding changes are temporary at best. There is absolutely no requirement they be in existence beyond the year 2015…It was an exceedingly small step in the right direction.”
The plaintiffs were also quick to point out that the legislature made a conscious to not study the costs of its education requirements. The House version of the 2014-15 budget contained a rider (provision) that required a re-examination of the cost-of-education index and the weights and allotments within the current school finance formulas. This rider was stripped from the budget before finale passage.
As our post-legislative session analysis of public education funding in the 2014-15 budget explains, the Legislature failed to undo the harm caused by the unprecedented 2011 cuts, which disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged public school students. These cuts, among other inequities, led Judge Dietz to originally rule Texas’ school finance system unconstitutional early last year. (Reread our statement on Judge Dietz’s original ruling here).
The State is sticking by its original argument that the school finance system is and has been constitutional.
This phase of the school finance trial is expected to last six weeks. The evidence presented is anticipated to play a major role in the governor’s race and the 2015 legislative session.
See below for a downloadable copy of our 2014-15 budget analysis