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Judge Declares Public School Financing System Unconstitutional

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jack Fink
Jack moved to Dallas after three years at WESH-TV, the NBC affil...
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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It’s the ruling heard across the state that will affect millions of school children.

State district Judge John Dietz of Austin ruled Thursday the state’s funding of public schools is unconstitutional. In his ruling, the judge wrote, “The court finds that the Texas school finance system effectively imposes a state property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution because school districts do not have meaningful discretion over the levy, assessment and disbursement of local property taxes. The court further finds that the legsilature has failed to meet its obligational duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated, and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutional adequate education for all Texas school children.” He continued, “the school finance system is financially inefficient because all Texas students do not have substantially equal access to the educational funds…”

In the long-term, the judge’s ruling could signal a drastic increase in state funding in public schools. In the short term though, no changes may happen at all.

The Republican-led state will appeal the judge’s decision to the State Supreme Court.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams issued the following statement: “Regardless of the ruling at the district court level, all sides have known this is an issue that will again be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court. Texas is committed to finding solutions to educate every student in every classroom. however, it should be our state leaders making those decisions, not a single judge.”

More than 600 school districts sued the state two years ago after the legislature slashed funding for public schools by $5.4 billion in 2011 following the recession. In a statement, Linda Bridges, president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 65,000 members said, “State officials should stop trying to defend this indefensible system. Instead of delaying the case as long as possible on appeal, they should face up now to the state’s duty to provide every child with a full opportunity to achieve his or her educational potential… The state economy is booming, and the state treasury is overflowing with available revenue…”

Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Miles released the following statement: “We support and applaud the court’s finding that the current school funding system still does not suitably, adequately, or equitably provide the resources necessary to give all students a real opportunity to meet the state’s rising expectations…”

Fort Worth ISD said it’s “Pleased that Judge John Dietz once again ruled that the current school finance system violates the requirements of Texas Constitution.”

And at Kramer Elementary school in North Dallas, parents and grandparents who spoke to CBS 11 News said they hope the state will boost spending on their kids and schools.

“I support the judge’s decision. I think it’s vital for the success of our society, our state and our kids,” said Rex Manaste.

Grandmother Judy Basted agrees with Manaste. “I just feel it is very unfortunate, that some students and some schools aren’t getting the necessary things that they need and I feel like yes, there needs to be a compromise somewhere, that they can get together and make sure there’s enough money spent.”

The state legislature will return to session this January with a newly elected Governor and Lt. Governor.

The Democratic candidate for Governor, Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who fought against the education cuts during the 2011 legislative session, issued a statement saying, “Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state, and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans.”

The Republican candidate for Governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s defended the state in the lawsuit, said in a statement, “Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely.”

Follow Jack on Twitter: @cbs11jack

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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