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School finance trial do-over set to start soon

Once more into the breach.

Hundreds of school districts in North Texas and across the state will resume their courtroom battle over funding in January, arguing that new money and reduced testing did little to fix Texas’ school finance system.

State and legislative leaders contend changes they approved this year have blunted the districts’ arguments. But the more than 600 districts suing will urge state District Judge John Dietz to reissue his February 2013 ruling that ordered dramatic changes in funding of schools.

Dietz found the system fails to provide enough money for schools to educate all their students to meet the state constitution’s requirements. The judge also said funds are being distributed unfairly.

Dietz withheld his final ruling pending the Legislature’s action in the regular session that ended in late May.

Lawmakers restored much of the funding that was taken away from schools in the state budget crisis of 2011. The bulk of new money helped narrow the wide funding gaps between poor and rich districts. That was a key point of contention in the case.

They boosted funding by $3.4 billion, after a $5.4 billion cut in 2011, and sharply reduced the required high-stakes tests in high school.

But is that enough to sway Dietz and, ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court?

See here, here, here, and here for the background. To sum up, the state will argue that they restored a lot of the funds that were cut, they reduced the amount of tests that needed to be taken, and they prioritized restoring funds to the schools that had the lowest per-student funding rate. Plaintiffs will argue that school districts overall are still underfunded, that most of the tests were cut were ones that weren’t often taken anyway, that large funding disparities still exist, that school districts still have little to no ability to set their own tax rates because of mandated caps, and that very few resources exist for the growing number of non-native English speakers in the public schools. I personally think the plaintiffs have the stronger argument, but we’ll see. The next hearing is January 21.

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