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Judge Strikes Down Texas School Finance System

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune
Judge John Dietz issued a ruling calling the state's school finance system constitutionally inadequate.

Today, Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz issued a ruling that finds the way Texas pays for public schools unconstitutional, calling it a de facto statewide property tax.

The case was brought by hundreds of Texas school districts after the state legislature cut $5 billion from public school funding in 2011.

The ruling, which affirmed Dietz’s previous ruling in late 2012, calls the state’s funding of public schools and charter schools “constitutionally inadequate,” and says the state must pay “declaratory relief.” In his ruling, Dietz added the funding system adversely affected economically disadvantaged children in Texas.

Read the entire list of legal evidence in support of the ruling, here.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams criticized the ruling in a written statement, suggesting lawmakers should have final say in how education is funded, not judges.

Today’s decision is just a first step on a very familiar path for school finance litigation in Texas. Regardless of the ruling at the district court level, all sides have known this is an issue that will again be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court. Texas is committed to finding solutions to educate every student in every classroom. However, it should be our state leaders making those decisions, not a single judge. Any revisions to our school finance system must be made by members of the Texas Legislature. The Texas Education Agency will continue carrying out its responsibilities in providing funding for our public schools based on the current system and ultimately the legislative decisions made at the end of this legal process.

Candidates for statewide offices have also weighed in on the ruling.

Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott released the following statement:

"Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely. My plan will make Texas top-ranked in the nation for education by returning genuine local control to school districts, ensuring all children are reading and doing math at grade level by third grade, and graduating more students from high school than ever before."

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat who's running for Lieutenant Governor, praised the ruling in a written statement, calling the state’s funding system “broken.”

“Opportunity in Texas should not be restricted by where you live and the irresponsible whims of a politician more focused on political scorecards than our student’s report cards,” she said as a campaign jab against her opponent in the race for lieutenant governor, State Sen. Dan Patrick.

Patrick said in a statement he helped lead the charge to restore some of the funding last legislative session.

"We have spent vast amounts of money towards education and we're still struggling to see significant improvement," he said. "Spending continues to rise steadily while the number of failing schools increases. [Thursday's] decision is the sole decision of one judge in Travis County. The final say will come from the Supreme Court."

In his ruling, Dietz gave the Texas legislature until July 1, 2015 to restore school funding.

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