School finance suit will take time

01/28/2014 5:46 PM

01/28/2014 5:47 PM

Texas has a poor record of defending its public school finance system against lawsuits brought by the school districts and students it is supposed to serve.

By that record, you’d have to say that, eventually, the suit brought by more than 600 districts and other parties and undergoing a new round of hearings before an Austin judge will go to the state Supreme Court and, eventually, bring the same dismal result: another mandate for the Legislature to fix what’s wrong.

It’s the eventually part that’s likely to make Texans weary before this suit ends.

Modern-day legal battles over Texas school finance started in 1968 when parents in San Antonio’s Edgewood school district filed a federal suit saying poor districts weren’t given as much funding as wealthy districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the suit in 1973, saying school finance is a state issue.

In 1984, the Edgewood district led other poor districts in a state lawsuit, again claiming unequal funding. In 1995, several suits and several proposed remedies later, the state Supreme Court finally upheld a new finance plan.

The next round of suits started in 2001, led by the West Orange-Cove district near Beaumont. In 2005, the Supreme Court again declared the finance system unconstitutional. The Legislature completed repairs in 2006.

The first suit in the latest battle was filed in October 2011, after a legislative session in which lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from school funding.

A year ago, state District Judge John Dietz declared school funding in Texas to be inequitably distributed among school districts and inadequate to meet education requirements set by the state.

Dietz held off issuing a written ruling while the Legislature met. Lawmakers restored $3.4 billion to school budgets, and this month Dietz reopened the case.

Experts have said the new funding does not make up the gap between wealthy and poor school districts that Dietz cited a year ago.

It will be difficult for the plaintiff districts to show that funding remains inadequate, mainly because the $3.4 billion just started flowing back into the system and it will be months before data on its effect will be available.

When will the case make it to the Supreme Court? Maybe next year.

Get used to waiting.

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