Texas District Court Rules 2011 Education Cuts UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Today Greg Abbott was dealt yet another significant blow in his fight to defend draconian, Republican-led education cuts.  Here’s the story from Lauren McGaughy of the Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — A judge on Thursday again declared Texas’ school finance system unconstitutional, reaffirming his 2013 ruling that struck down the current mode of funding public education as inefficient and inadequate.

“The court finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren,” state District Judge John Dietz wrote in his ruling.

He also ruled the system “constitutionally inadequate” and “financially inefficient.” Finally, he said it effectively imposes a state property tax in violation of the state Constitution.

[…]

The 400-page ruling issued Thursday was the latest salvo in nearly two years of litigation, and marked another major victory for the plaintiffs representing nearly three in four Texas schoolchildren. They challenged the adequacy and equality of the Texas’ public education funding, suing the state after lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from the budget in 2011.

This judge’s ruling once again shines the spotlight on the heinous actions of Republicans in the 2011 State Legislature.  Even 3 years later, these cuts are just not going away for the Texas GOP.

State Senator Rodney Ellis issued a statement after today’s court decision, urging the legislature to correct the gross under-funding of our schools…

Now that our school finance system has once again been ruled unconstitutional, you may hear some elected officials claim that the legislature cannot act until after the case has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and the nine justices have had an opportunity to rule. I firmly disagree.

The legislature should treat the under-funding of our children’s schools like what it is: an emergency that must be solved immediately. In fact, there’s ample precedent for us working to solve this issue prior to the Texas Supreme Court weighing in. In 2004 and 2005, the last time the constitutionality of Texas’ school finance system was in court, the legislature worked on school finance for three special sessions and one regular session – all before the Supreme Court finally ruled the system was unconstitutional.

Even if one is not a lawyer, this case seems simple enough.  While its true that some of the education funding was restored in 2013 (thanks in no small part to Wendy Davis threatening another filibuster), the restoration isn’t enough to adequately care for state school districts. Texas is still allocating $1.5 billion fewer dollars to educate our kids than the state did in 2010.  But that reduced amount of money has to service a bigger state, as Texas has grown by nearly 1.5 million people in just four short years.  Less money needed for more kids equals a greater burden placed on our local schools, and LOCAL tax payers.

Take Katy Independent School District as an example.  Thanks to a massive population boom in the city, Katy ISD’s school board has an ambitious plan to build new schools.  But to fund that plan, the district is asking voters to approve a $748 million bond referendum.  Could that bond request be reduced if state funding levels were adequate?  School districts are being asked to make the same sacrifices, with little or no state support.

After today’s ruling, Abbott will likely try to kick the case up to the Texas Supreme Court.  Hopefully they will find the same result.

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