Battle over Texas school finance continues

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by KVUE

khou.com

Posted on February 5, 2014 at 9:39 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- A decision which will affect the future of public school students' education is expected in a few days.

Lawyers for more than 600 school districts in Texas rested their case in court Tuesday. Now lawyers for the state will have their turn.

They plan to call just three witnesses. It's the latest step in a case that dates back to 2011 when the Legislature cut the state's education budget by $5.4 billion.

More than 600 school districts rallied together to fight the change. They claimed that the loss of funding, plus the increasing number of students enrolling in school every year, were placing too much of a burden on schools now forced to meet stricter graduation requirements.

Last February Judge John Dietz agreed, ruling the state school finance system was inadequate and inequitable.

Lawmakers decided to restore $3.4 billion of the funding and reduce the number of standardized tests required for students from 15 to five.

Districts returned to court to argue the changes weren't nearly enough, and on the other side some argued what the system lacks is choice.

"The really important part of this case is that we recognize that we have high standards in Texas," Governmental Relations Director with the Association of Texas Professional Educators Brock Gregg said. "We have not reduced those standards by reducing tests, and that in order to meet those things we're going to have to have additional resources."

"Let's look at the public school system itself in Texas. How can we make it excellent? And I think that question goes far beyond money," Vice President of Policy with Texas Public Policy Foundation Chuck Devore said.

Judge Dietz reconvened the case last month to see if the restored money changes his decision, which was only an oral statement, not a final ruling.

So far one expert testified that school districts need at least $1,000 more per student to meet minimum standards. Another said the money isn't enough to level the playing field for students across the state. That expert says there is a $1,300 gap in per-student funding between wealthy and economically disadvantaged areas.

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