Judge Rules Texas School Finance System Unconstitutional. Again.

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Texas State Capitol website

On Thursday, State District Judge John Dietz in Austin ruled for the second time that Texas' school finance system is unconstitutional, almost 18 months since he made his first unconstitutional ruling against the system.

Nearly three years ago, more than 600 school districts sued the state after the 2011 Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from the public education budget. Those cuts led to overcrowded classrooms and a reduction in number of teachers statewide. In 2013, the Legislature restored $3.4 billion in funding.

In his ruling this week, Dietz wrote that "the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated, and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren. Further, the school finance system is constitutionally inadequate because it cannot accomplish, and has not accomplished, a general diffusion of knowledge because all Texas students do not have substantially equal access to the educational funds necessary to accomplish a general diffusion of knowledge." Read the full opinion here.

Dietz first ruled the system unconstitutional in early 2013, and the case was then reopened after the 2013 Texas Legislature restored some funding, which advocates say still isn't enough. According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office will appeal the case, "just as it defends all laws enacted by the Legislature when they are challenged in court."

In response to the ruling, several advocacy organizations and teacher groups called on the Texas Legislature to fix the school finance system.

"It’s time for state leaders to stop defending a woefully inadequate school finance system in the courtroom and turn their attention to providing students and teachers the resources they need to excel in the classroom,” said Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D- San Antonio, a longtime public education advocate in the Texas Legislature also called on his fellow legislators to "fully fund our public schools."

Democratic candidates for statewide offices Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte echoed their sentiments.

Abbott, also the Republican candidate for Texas governor, said in a campaign statement that that Texas should "improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago," and went on to highlight his education proposal, which can be found online

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, chair of the Senate Education committee and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said what happens next with the school finance system is ultimately up to the Texas Legislature.

"During the last economic downturn we only had two options – cut spending or raise taxes. I along with the Texas Senate, chose to make cuts and keep taxes low. As chair of the Senate Education Committee, I led the charge to restore most of the education funding cuts from last session," he said. "We have spent vast amounts of money towards education and we’re still struggling to see significant improvement. Spending continues to rise steadily while the number of failing schools increases. Today's decision is the sole decision of one judge in Travis County. The final say will come from the Supreme Court. Ultimately, it is the legislature, voted by the people of Texas, who should make these important decisions."

Patrick is an advocate for school vouchers in the Legislature. David Dunn, executive director of  the Texas Charter School Association said Dietz "got it wrong" in his claims made about charter schools.

"Public charter schools have answered the call from parents for more quality education choices and innovative options, but we know that parents aren’t willingly choosing to walk away from needed funds for their students," he said. "It’s unfair to provide the option and not provide the means.”

This timeline created by the Associated Press lays out the history of Texas' school finance court battles.

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