By CHERIL VERNON
Local superintendents expressed their satisfaction Tuesday with the landmark decision in the Texas school finance lawsuit — as a judge ruled Monday that the system Texas uses to fund public schools violates the state’s constitution.
After listening to closing arguments Monday, Judge John Dietz ruled the funding mechanism used by Texas public schools does not meet the constitutional requirement for a fair and efficient system that provides a general diffusion of knowledge.
The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.
This was the sixth case of its kind since 1984. In 2005, Dietz found the previous funding system unconstitutional and directed the Legislature to devise a new one.
“I think I speak for the vast majority of superintendents in the state when I say it was a long time in coming. There has never been any doubt in my mind that the current school funding system in the state of Texas is flawed — both in terms of inadequacy and inequity. For years, schools have been faced with unfunded mandates as well as revenue cuts,” Elkhart Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Ray DeSpain said Tuesday. “Personally, I think it’s time for our legislators to step up and do the right thing for the school children of the state of Texas.”
Westwood Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Ed Lyman was happy with the court’s decision.
“I am pleased the court recognizes the inequities in the funding system and the mandate this ruling will be for state legislators. WISD joined the suit supporting the Equity Center’s position because of the challenge of maintaining an effective school district while working under the same accountability system with other school districts who receive thousands of dollars more per student,” Lyman said. “The ruling will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, but I am confident they will also see the injustice in the current funding system.”
Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jason Marshall said Dietz validated the claim made by Palestine ISD and hundreds of other schools in declaring the finance system for Texas public schools inequitable.
“The state of Texas needs to provide equal access to funding for all students in Texas. Further, Judge Dietz ruled that local taxpayers have lost their local control over the way they fund their schools since most schools have had to tax at the highest level to make budget thereby creating a statewide de facto property tax. As a member of the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition, Palestine ISD is thrilled with the decision,” Marshall said.
Marshall expects the state to appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.
“We do not expect a ruling until at least the fall of 2013 and maybe into the spring of 2014. If the Supreme Court upholds the decision, I expect an increase in funding for our students — since we are currently funding below the midpoint of schools in the state of Texas,” Marshall said.
With the 83rd Legislative Session currently under way in Austin, Marshall said many legislators have said they want to wait until a final decision from the Supreme Court is made before fixing the finance system, rather than having to do it again after the court’s decision.
“However, I think the ruling yesterday confirms our claim. I think legislators will increase funding for schools during this session — they may just wait to overhaul the entire system until after the Supreme Court ruling,” Marshall said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.