Texas school finance case takes a well-worn path

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The first shoe has fallen in Texas' latest round of public school finance litigation, and to the surprise of no one who has studied or watched the previous rounds, a district judge in Austin has declared the state's funding plan unconstitutional.

Also to no surprise, the case will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which four times since 1989 has tossed out such plans and ordered the Legislature to come up with new ones.

The state's highest civil court is expected to hear arguments in the latest case this summer and rule (drop the second shoe in this metaphor) before the end of the year.

Does anyone else feel as if we're wearing out our shoes walking in circles? Does anyone wonder why this keeps happening?

The first three times (the cases referred to as Edgewood I in 1989, Edgewood II in 1991 and Edgewood III in 1992, all named after the San Antonio school district that was the lead plaintiff), the issue was unequal funding among more than 1,000 school districts.

The solution, after several plans failed, was a 1995 ruling (Edgewood IV) requiring wealthy school districts to share their property tax revenue with poor districts.

Having finally emerged from the long legal struggles, state lawmakers were in no hurry to make any more changes. That was a mistake, because the funding system couldn't keep up. By 2001, the state was back in court defending that system again. The battle bounced from district court to the Supreme Court and back to district court.

In 2005, the Supreme Court said again that the state had allowed its funding system to become unconstitutional, this time out of sheer neglect. The Legislature had kept its hands off for so long that many districts had been driven to the maximum property tax rate, effectively losing the ability to decide for themselves how to run their schools.

Monday's ruling from state District Judge John Dietz came after 12 weeks of testimony in which Dietz said school districts proved the state was not providing enough money for them to reach state-set goals and that the money provided is being distributed inequitably.

On now to the Supreme Court. It's a well-worn path.

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