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Texas Education Funding System Ruled Unconstitutional

In a massive 364 page ruling issued last week, Texas District Court Judge John K. Dietz ruled that the Texas education finance system:

  1. is structured in such a way that it cannot provide an adequate education for all students;

  2. does not provide the "general diffusion of knowledge" called for by the state constitution;

  3. denies all children equal access to the funding necessary for a "general diffusion of knowledge;"

  4. limits the ability of local school districts to raise sufficient funds and, in essence, establishes a state property tax that is prohibited by the Texas constitution.

The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition v. Williams

The Court had issued a ruling last year holding that the state education finance system was unconstitutional, but  after the state legislature voted to increase education funding at its last session, the judge scheduled additional hearings to determine if the new legislation had brought the system into constitutional compliance. The court's analysis of all aspects of the Texas finance system as set forth in his detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law determined that the recent increases had not substantially rectified the deep-rooted constitutional violations.

In its exhaustive analysis of all aspects of the state's finance system, the court found that although the state had substantially raised its academic standards, it made no effort to provide the extra resources students would need to meet those standards, or to update its formulae and cost analyses to determine what level of resources would be necessary.  Judge Dietz also found that the growing population of English language learner and low income students are not receiving the extra "wrap around services" such as quality pre-K programs, extra learning time, counseling and parent engagement that they need to obtain a "general diffusion of knowledge," and that the state was not providing sufficient funds to recruit a quality teaching staff, provide reasonable class sizes, and ensure necessary supplies, equipment and adequate facilities. He rejected arguments by Defendants' experts Rick Hanushek and Michael Podgursky regarding a lack of correlation between extra spending and school performance and defendants allegations of wasteful spending by certain school districts.

The Court's remedy was dramatic: it has enjoined any spending through the current state education finance system effective July 1, 2015, until the state corrects the constitutional violations described in the opinion. The court also awarded substantial attorneys' fees to plaintiffs' attorneys and retained jurisdiction to oversee compliance.

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