School Finance Trial Wraps Up In Case Likely Headed To State Supreme Court
Travis County District Judge John Dietz has finished hearing closing arguments in the Texas school finance lawsuit and now attorneys from both sides await a decision. Dietz is taking his time to formulate an opinion because the case will likely go to the Texas Supreme Court.
"I think the evidence was pretty compelling that restoring some of the money just didn’t fix all the problems," said Houston attorney David Thompson, who represents a large group of schools in the lawsuit.
One of the main areas the court focused it’s attention was the $3.4 billion in education funding that was restored in 2013 of the $5.4 billion cut in 2011. Another part of the lawsuit addresses funding gaps between rich and poor school districts -- witnesses for the state testified that funding gaps had been diminishing since 2006 and would continue to do so in the coming year.
"There’s not a normal formula that you can use that you can say, 'Oh that’s how much this district gets.' There’s so many arbitrary mechanisms built into to it,'" said David Hinojosa, an attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who represents some of the plaintiffs.
Hinojosa said each school district is different, many have greater needs to continue student growth, and it isn’t a simple side-by-side measurement.
Hinojosa summed their argument that though the Texas Legislature did restore some funding in 2013, it still wasn’t the full $5.4 billion, and since then the population has grown.
"The state can point to no reduced cost for school districts resulting from this legislative change, the state cannot point to the minimal amount of spending that was put into to the system," he said.
Hinojosa said student success rates are at an all-time low, which is costing poorer school districts more money to bring those students up to grade with less resources. He along with others also points to funding gaps in the system that have never been addressed.
In 2013, Dietz issued a preliminary ruling when he called the Texas school finance system "unconstitutional," but did not submit a formal opinion, giving the Texas Legislature time to correct the matter during the 83rd Legislative Session.