“The system Texas uses to fund public schools violates the state’s constitution by not providing enough money and failing to distribute the money in a fair way, a judge ruled Monday in a landmark decision that could force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for education,” the Associated Press reported late on Monday.
Judge John Dietz ruled the system is “woefully inadequate and hopelessly broken.”
“Woefully inadequate” is what many groups and even local school officials focused on. The Center for Public Policy Priorities’ Scott McCown — a former judge who also once ruled Texas’ school finance system unconstitutional — demanded immediate action.
“The district court’s strong ruling confirms what we already know,” he said. “We aren’t investing enough in education. We aren’t dividing what we do spend fairly between school districts. And the state is forcing local property taxes up because it won’t pay its share of the cost of education.”
That group is calling for the restoration of the $5.3 billion in cuts made last session.
The Texas American Federation of Teacher agreed, saying, “The state needs to invest more in public education immediately, because the kids can’t wait.”
But it’s not just about the level of funding — Judge Dietz acknowledged this in his ruling. He said Texas’ school finance problems can’t be fixed “by throwing money at them.”
The heart of Dietz’s ruling is that the system itself is “hopelessly broken.”
Here’s why: the state funds its public schools largely through property tax revenues raised locally. Some school districts are “property-rich,” and some are “property poor.” In an attempt to balance out per-pupil funding, the state instituted the “Robin Hood” system of taking money from property-rich districts and redistributing it to property-poor districts.
State Sen. Kevin Eltife saw this coming; he voted against the 2006 school reform package because he realized it was “out of balance and would not work.”
It’s time to fix the system for good, and that’s going to take a complete redesign, not merely more money.
The Legislature must solve the problem, and it must solve it now. It won’t be easy, but if the Legislature fails to lead, we’ll be back here again soon.