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School finance retrial, Day One

And they’re off, again.

Back in the courtroom after a 2013 legislative session in which lawmakers added money back to the state public education budget, lawyers representing nearly two-thirds of Texas school districts argued on Tuesday that the funding boost was short term, and that other changes had increased costs for schools.

“Any and all funding changes are temporary at best. There is absolutely no requirement they be in existence beyond the year 2015,” said Rick Gray, a lawyer for the Equity Center, which represents about 400 school districts, the bulk of them poor, in the sprawling litigation that involves five other parties. “It was an exceedingly small step in the right direction.”

Implementing complex new high school curriculum requirements, he said, including hiring more school counselors and broadening vocational education options, had imposed additional expenses on districts.


On Tuesday, school districts rejected any suggestion that legislative changes had weakened their argument.

“The state can’t dumb down its constitutional obligations and say that perhaps students aren’t held to same college-ready standards as they were previously,” said attorney David Hinojosa, referring to the new high school graduation standards.

But state lawyer Shelley Dahlberg said that all but a handful of districts met the state’s accountability standards and that student performance remained constant even in the face of budget cuts.

The new laws passed in 2013, she said, only improved an already consitutional system.

“School districts asked for and received more discretion and flexibility on every level,” she said.

Which doesn’t mean they got enough, of course. The state had argued that the post-2011, pre-2013 system was just fine as it was, so obviously they think the partial restoration of the drastic cuts from 2011 was manna from heaven. I don’t think the Lege did nearly enough, and I don’t think Judge Dietz will think the Lege did enough. Whether the Supreme Court thinks the Lege did enough is another question. Not that they have to get involved, however – his assertions to the contrary, AG Greg Abbott could try to settle the case instead of litigating it to the bitter end. Needless to say, I don’t think he’ll do that. I look forward to reading Judge Dietz’s opinion. Better Texas Blog has more.

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