After the School Finance Ruling: What Does it Mean for Texas?

Chandra Villanueva

Nearly two years after the filing of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas school finance system, District Court Judge John Dietz issued his final ruling. Not surprisingly, for those who follow education issues in Texas, he found the school finance system to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it is inadequate, inefficient, and inequitable. But what does this mean for our public schools?

First, let’s look at some of the major findings starting with adequacy.

The ruling states, “All performance measures considered at trial, including STAAR tests, EOC exams, SATs, the ACTs, performance gaps, graduation rates, and dropout rates among others, demonstrate that Texas public schools are not accomplishing a general diffusion of knowledge due to inadequate funding.” In other words, there has been a failure to back up standards with resources, and that “the State has made no effort to determine the costs of meeting its own standards or of bridging the performance gaps.”

The more than 600 school districts that challenged the finance system successfully argued that economically disadvantaged and English Language Learner students are not meeting the set standards and that the amount needed to improve outcomes for these students exceeds what the current system is able to provide. The court’s opinion is that the current adjustments within the formulas that are supposed to address additional funding needs for special populations, called weights and allotments, are arbitrary and inadequate.

The issues of efficiency and adequacy are closely related. The school finance system is inefficient because it fails to provide substantially equal access to revenue at similar tax effort, and this leads to inequity between property poor and property wealthy districts. Basically, this means that property poor districts are taxing themselves at a higher tax rate than property wealthy districts, but are unable to generate revenue amounts comparable to the property wealthy districts.  Judge Dietz explains, “there is not a direct and close correlation between a district’s tax effort and the educational resources available to it…. as a result, there are large gaps in funding levels and tax efforts between low property wealth and high property wealth districts.”

The state is expected to appeal this ruling directly to the State Supreme Court, so it could be a while before any changes are actually made to school funding. However, the Legislature can take positive steps right now to begin addressing these findings. Primarily, the state needs to undertake a thorough and comprehensive study on the cost of education and the weights and allotments. Judge Dietz made it very clear throughout his ruling that inadequate funding is diminishing the educational outcomes of all Texas students, and that’s not good for the future of Texas.

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