Texas Supreme Court rules education funding constitutional

The Texas Supreme Court declared the state's school finance system constitutional.

The ruling by the State Supreme Court was highly critical of the current way the state funds education. The justices called the method “byzantine” but stopped short of declaring it unconstitutional, stating it met minimal requirements.

It's a bitter defeat for the Austin Independent School District which was among 600 school systems that sued the state.

"Disappointed, but still continued and re-energizes my focus on high standards for all of our students,” said AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz.

The Supreme Court overturns an earlier ruling against the state by Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz.

Governor Greg Abbott was in Dallas for the Republican Convention, which started Thursday, when the ruling came down. In a statement he said:

"Today's ruling is a victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution. The Supreme Court's decision ends years of wasteful litigation by correctly recognizing that courts do not have the authority to micromanage the State's school finance system."

This legal battle started in 2011 after state lawmakers reduced the education budget by $5.4 billion. The great recession decreased sales tax revenues and the GOP controlled legislature refused to make up the difference by raising taxes.

The immediate impact of the ruling is that there won't be a special session forcing state lawmakers back to the drawing board. But education advocates say that doesn't mean some type of reform package will not be considered during the regular session.

"We think there is a political will out there, when you actually talk to parents and taxpayers,  that we want something better for our kids, better for our schools,” said Josh Sanderson with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

But there's concern some lawmakers may use this as an opportunity to push a school voucher program.

"We will continue to fight that, that is going in the totally opposite direction, even the supreme court in this decision,  the school finance funding method barely meets constitutional muster, this is no time to take money from the public schools, it’s time to put more money into the public schools,” said Clay Robison with the Texas State Teachers Association.

For AISD status quo means local property tax money will continue to be sent to the state to prop up poorer school systems.

Last year what's known as the Robin Hood formula the state recaptured $181 million from AISD. This school year the amount increased to $266 million and next year the amount is expected to creep closer to the half billion dollar mark. With that growing problem in mind- AISD Board President Kendall Pace does not view the ruling as a total defeat.

"It didn't say don’t do nothing, don’t do anything, it didn't say go away, don’t do anything about it, in fact they were very firm in that it was an satisfied antiquated system that needs to be addressed,” said Pace.

The ruling settles the 6th major court case since 1984 over how Texas funds public schools. In giving the state a win the judges also issued a challenge to all parties involved saying --the children of Texas deserve better than serial litigation -- and deserve transformational - top to bottom reforms - and not Band-Aids on top of band aids.

To read the ruling, click here
 

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