Texas School Funding Scheme Upheld

     AUSTIN (CN) — Upholding Texas education funding, the Texas Supreme Court ended a challenge Friday in which more than 600 school districts argued that the system shortchanges some.
     The districts filed the lawsuit in 2011 after the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education to balance the state budget.
     Friday’s unanimous ruling by the court’s nine justices, all Republicans, came as a surprise given the lawsuit’s history.
     Back in 2013, Travis County Judge John Dietz, a Democrat, ruled that the state’s school-finance system was unconstitutional because it improperly distributed property-tax revenue, which partly funds schools in the state that has no income tax, among districts.
     The high court deferred Friday to the Texas Legislature, finding that a solution to the finance issues should be worked out in Austin.
     “Our judicial responsibility is not to second-guess or micromanage Texas education policy or to issue edicts from on high increasing financial inputs in hopes of increasing educational outputs,” the 100-page ruling by Judge Don Willett states.
     The school districts that filed suit teach 75 percent of the state’s public school students, according to a report by the Associated Press.
     Financially strapped districts argued that they don’t get enough taxpayer funds to comply with the state’s increasingly difficult academic standards, which are measured by standardized tests. Wealthy districts meanwhile complained that they couldn’t get voters to approve tax hikes because the funds would go to other districts.
     The plaintiffs included the Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest.     
     That district criticized the Texas Supreme Court on Friday afternoon for letting mediocre education standards prevail.
     “The Houston ISD is very disappointed in today’s decision but, we remain committed to working with the Texas Legislature on a long-term fix for an outdated state school finance system,” the district said in a statement. “The court’s ruling affirmed that the current system needs to be revamped, but the court also said the system is meeting the ‘minimum requirements’ of educating students. Minimum funding requirements are in direct contrast to the high standards Houston ISD and the state set for our students.”
     Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed relief on Friday about the court’s ruling.
     “Today’s ruling is a victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution,” Abbott said in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s decision ends years of wasteful litigation by correctly recognizing that courts do not have the authority to micromanage the State’s school finance system.”
     The Texas Legislature restored $3 billion to public schools in 2013 and infused another $1.5 billion in 2015.
     The funds weren’t enough, however, to cover the $5.4 billion cut that spawned the lawsuit because enrollment in Texas public schools is growing by nearly 80,000 a year, the AP reported.
     The increased enrollment tracks a trend of people moving to Texas, especially its metropolitan centers, more than any other state.
     Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio together gained more residents than any U.S. state from July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015, the Census Bureau announced in March.
     Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Friday the state is willing to forfeit its $10 billion in federal education funding if the Obama administration holds Texas to a new directive that requires schools to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice.

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