School finance now goes to Texas Supreme Court

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 6:54pm

In 2011, deep cuts were made in state funding for education as the Legislature tried to cope with the recession.

Hundreds of school districts then sued the state over the cuts, and Monday, an Austin District Judge found the the districts and against the state.

The districts say that teachers have been fired, classes have swollen and students have suffered since the cuts. And now that they’ve won, the case goes to the top court in the state.

“I’m very pleased at this point, but also very apprehensive because we don’t know where it’s going to end up,” Says Gary Mooring, the Superintendent of TISD, and he is obviously glad the first step has gone the school’s way. “It was exciting because the court recognized that the funding inequities and adequacy of the funding was way below where we needed to.”

In 2011, the legislature cut $5.5 billion out of school funding. But paying for public schools is a state responsibility under the Texas Constitution. And that is exactly what judge John Dietz found in Austin.

“It translated to about 10-million here in Tyler that we got cut in the last biennium,” Mooring says.

Funding levels were slightly higher in 2013 than in 2004. But if you look at the fact that the school system is adding 70,000 students a year, there’s something like 600,000 more students in the system.

The decision also found that the method used to capture excess property taxes from wealthy districts amounts to a state income tax. And that’s unconstitutional. But will it have any effect on this session and the state school budget?

Not in time anyway, and many legislators are still convinced schools are not efficient enough.

“If we cut out all the administration and just had teachers, you couldn’t raise enough money to make a dent in how much money we’d lose in this state,” Mooring told KETK.

The powers that be in Austin are vowing to fight this. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Education Commissioner Michael Williams say they’ll push to have this decision reversed. And Texas Public Schools will have to make do for now.

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