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Judge Will Hear New Arguments Tuesday In Texas School Funding Case

Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Texas Tribune
State District Judge John Dietz will hear more testimony before making a final decision on whether the state school system is constitutional.

A judge who declared the Texas school funding system unconstitutional will hear more evidence Tuesday before entering his final, written ruling. 

Last February, State District Judge John Dietz said Texas has raised academic standards, but has not provided the money necessary for students to meet those standards.

“As the economist put it, there’s no free lunch,” Dietz said after hearing several months of evidence. "We either want increased standards and we’re willing to pay the price, or we don’t.”

Then, during last year’s legislative session, lawmakers restored about three-fourths of the money they had taken from school budgets in 2011 and they cut the number of tests students must take to graduate.

The state has said those actions have improved school districts’ bottom lines, so the judge should consider them before entering his final order.

But David Thompson, who represents some of the 600-plus districts suing the state, says lawmakers didn’t really solve the school finance system’s problems.

“You still have at least 40 percent of the districts, 40 percent of the kids today, whose funding is still below where it was during the 2010-2011 school years,” Thompson said. “So what the Legislature did was positive but certainly didn’t correct any of the fundamental problems with the structure of our system.”

Thompson says the amount of state funding still varies greatly from district to district and Texas still wants all children to be ready for college or a career when they graduate. He says the money provided doesn’t make that possible for all children.

“The evidence strongly shows at least for many children the system is still underfunded," Thompson said. "And the kids we see particularly struggling as we raise standards -- they’re kids that disproportionately come from low-income households."

He added: “Districts are saying 'We simply are struggling to find the resources we need for remediation.'"

This next round of testimony is expected to last two or three weeks. 

The attorney general’s office, which is defending the state, has declined to comment on its position. But it has previously argued that student test scores and graduation rates have gone up and that’s proof the current system is working.