Update: State increases school funding in response to lawsuit

Trevor Nichols, News Editor

In response to the ruling that Texas’ state education funding system is unconstitutional, the Texas state legislature is considering increasing state funding to schools.

In February, Travis County District Judge John Dietz ruled Texas’ educational funding system unconstitutional, following a lawsuit on behalf of Katy ISD and more than 60 other school districts against the state. The plaintiffs sued the state of Texas due to 2011’s $5.4 billion cuts from state education funding, claiming that the state’s level of funding made it impossible to maintain high quality education for students. The lawsuit is now being appealed by the state to the Texas Supreme Court.

“The evidence is clear that money matters,” attorney Rick Gray said. “Money spent wisely matters. Whether you look at SAT scores, ACT scores, or dropout rates, those that have more, do better.”

In 2011, when the legislature made the cuts to education spending that caused the lawsuit, Texas faced a budget shortfall of $27 billion. This year, Texas has a budget surplus of $8.8 billion. Despite the budget surplus, only $2.5 billion was added back to the education funding, making up for less than half of the $5.4 billion of school funding cut in 2011.

“Because of [past spending cuts] Texas is in a stronger fiscal position,” lead House budget writer Representative Jim Pitts said in last Thursday’s session. “Because of the state’s financial health and robust economic growth we have been able to restore significant portions of last session’s cuts.”

The Texas House debated the $2.5 billion funding increase last week, about $1 billion more in educational funding than the amount that the Senate approved earlier this session. Most of the $2.5 billion being restored to educational funding will go towards more property-poor school districts that have received less funding than other districts in recent years, meaning that funding will most likely increase less in Katy ISD than in some other Texas school districts. Dietz recommended an average of $2000 more funding per student in Texas during his ruling in February, which would require adding $11 billion to the Texas education budget.

“There is no free lunch,” Dietz said in his February ruling. “We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don’t.”

It is possible that a special session of the Texas legislature will be called to settle problems with state education funding, if the Texas Supreme Court rules in favor of Dietz’s decision in the state’s appeal of the lawsuit.