Judge rules that Texas' school finance system is unconstitutional, again

Judge rules that Texas' school finance system is unconstitutional, again

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A judge has again declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional, reaffirming his 2013 decision despite $3.4 billion in extra classroom funding approved by the Legislature last summer.

"We are pleased that a judge has declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional," said Dr. LaTonya Goffney, Lufkin Independent School District's superintendent. "We are cautiously optimistic that a funding system will be designed that will adequately meet the challenges of educating diverse 21st century learners and is equitable regardless of zip code. In Lufkin ISD, we will continue to be fiscally responsible while striving to educate and equip all students for success through exceptional learning experiences."

"Our district supported the lawsuit, and we look forward to the legislature refocusing on school finance," said Ronny Knox, the associate superintendent of business and operations for Nacogdoches ISD.

State District Judge John Dietz's written opinion Thursday followed his verbal ruling last year that public school funding was inadequate. He also said the "Robin Hood" system doesn't share funding fairly between school districts in wealthy and poor areas.

"I expected the ruling to come back just as it did. When the facts are laid out the current funding formula fails to meet the Texas Constitution's requirements for a fair and efficient system," said Gary Martel, Diboll ISD's superintendent. "A child's zip code should not limit the funds needed to educate that child. The current system does just that."

The Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011, prompting more than 600 school districts statewide to sue.

Dietz's initial ruling followed a 3-plus month trial. But he reopened the case in January and heard new evidence, after lawmakers restored $3.4 billion to schools in 2013.

"I look forward to this legislative session where everyone involved can come to the table and hopefully solve this issue once and for all," Martel said. "I do not think that anyone wants the system to be unfair or inequitable. We now have to all work together to prove that."

The written ruling can now be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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