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Lawyers Give Closing Arguments in Texas School Finance Trial

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune
Judge John Dietz heard closing arguments Friday in the Texas school finance trial. He says he expects to make a final ruling in the spring.

There finally seems to be an end in sight in the Texas school finance trial as lawyers gave closing arguments Friday afternoon.

The trial initially examined if Texas constitutionally funds public education. In 2012, District Judge John Dietz preliminarily ruled the system was unconstitutional, but he reopened the trial to see if the actions of the 2013 legislature could change his final ruling.

Closing arguments reiterated the same points made in opening statements. The lawyers for more than 600 school districts argued when the 2011 legislature cut the education budget by $5.4 billion, they created an inadequate system that didn't provide enough money for districts to educate students and meet state accountability standards. When lawmakers restored $3.4 billion in education funding last year, lawyers contend it wasn't enough, especially as Texas sees an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners.

Attorney John Turner says that means important programs aren’t being implemented.

“Measures like tutoring for struggle students, smaller class size in the elementary grades, quality pre-K programs for economically disadvantaged students," Turner argued. "Our schools can do these things. Our schools can meet the standards the state has set for them, but they must have the necessary funds.”

But state lawyers disagreed. State attorney Shelley Dahlberg reminded the court that not only did the legislature restore some funding, lawmakers also reduced standards by cutting end-of-course exams from 15 to 5. Plus, she says students are meeting the standards.

“The record shows that even in the face of the much-maligned budget cuts, students are gaining ground and all schools and districts met standards on '12-'13 biennial funding," she argued.

Still, school districts argue a reduction in the number of tests doesn't reduce the rigor of the test.

Judge John Dietz is expected to make a ruling by the end of March. Then, the case is expected to head to the Texas Supreme Court.

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