State education funding policies ruled unconstitutional

Trevor Nichols, News Editor

Travis County District Judge John K. Dietz ruled the state of Texas’ current educational funding system unconstitutional on Feb. 5.  The ruling follows a lawsuit charging that the state  did not provide adequate funding for quality education.

“[The state] increased requirements in STAAR, the accountability system,” Superintendent Alton Frailey said. “They cut funds, and increased accountability. By cutting those dollars and raising expectations, we are saying, that’s not adequate. And other smaller districts are saying, we don’t have enough money to begin with.”

Katy ISD and more than 60 other school districts joined as plaintiffs in the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition’s lawsuit against the state, represented by the law firm Gray and Becker, P.C. The lawsuit represented the largest number of students ever in one school funding lawsuit.

“There are three parts of the lawsuit,” Frailey said. “One is discretion, meaning that the state mandates and requirements do not consume so much of the district budget that the local district does not have any discretion to do what they want to do locally. If there are too many mandates, where the state resources are not adequate enough, then we have no local discretion. The second part is adequacy: are there enough dollars provided to run an efficient school system? Do we have the resources to provide what the state requires? The third part of this is equity – are the dollars distributed in a way that all districts have enough resources to do what they need to do?”

The Katy ISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously to join the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition’s lawsuit against the state in October 2011.

“In Katy we have a fast-growth school district, so we have a lot of people coming in, and sometimes the needs of the students can outgrow the tax base,” Assistant Principal David Calfee said. “The problem, from a school district’s standpoint, is that the state continues to say that we have to provide programs at a high level, while they’re going to decrease the amount of money given to fund those programs.”

The state is expected to appeal Dietz’s decision to the Texas State Supreme Court. In 2004, Dietz issued a similar ruling against the state’s funding system, but his decision was partially reversed by the Supreme Court.

“The legislature is going to have to respond somehow,” Calfee said. “We partly have to wait and see what they decide to do. It’s a legislative year, and the last time they made a budget, they significantly cut the funding to education, and they may try to do the same thing again.”

State funding for education decreased by $5.4 billion in 2011. These educational budget cuts prompted the lawsuit.

“I hope that the lawsuit is effective,” AP Government teacher Kay Fenn said. “I also see some changes that are coming down from the legislature. I am seeing a shift for the first time in a long time away from spending huge amounts of money on standardized testing, and seeing a shift away from the regimentation of the curriculum, and seeing recognition that the curriculum is too broad and not deep enough.”