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TEXAS JUDGE OVERTURNS SCHOOL FINANCE SYSTEM: Deems “Robin Hood” Funding System Unconstitutional

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"Are we prepared for a future in Texas that is dismally poor, needy and ignorant?"

On September 16, a Texas district judge declared the state’s education funding system unconstitutional and ruled that the existing law violates the Texas constitution’s requirement that the state provide “sufficient and equitable” funding for its public schools. The judge, John Dietz, gave Texas lawmakers until October 2005 to develop a new system. Without a plan by that time, Dietz would halt state funding. Texas Governor Rick Perry and legislative leaders pledged to work on a new school finance plan when the regular session begins in January 2005.

“Are we prepared for a future in Texas that is dismally poor, needy and ignorant?” asked Dietz. “The answer is ‘I think not.’ ” Dietz cited lower test scores among low-income students as proof that the gap in educational achievement was widening between rich and poor districts. “The solution seems obvious,” he said. “Texas needs to close the education gap. But the rub is that is costs money to close the educational achievement gap. It doesn’t come free.”

The case, West Orange-Cove Consolidated School District v. Alanis, was brought by more than three hundred school districts, both rich and poor. The districts charged that the state finance system does not provide enough money for schools to meet higher state and federal standards. Currently, the state’s share of education funding had dropped to a historic low of 38 percent.

The Texas system, commonly referred to as “Robin Hood,” was created in 1993 and forced richer school districts to share their property tax revenues with poorer districts. In addition, many of the districts had been forced to tax at the statutory cap of $1.50 per $100 for school maintenance and operations. Dietz agreed that this cap amounted to an unconstitutional state property tax.

The Texas lawsuit was part of a nationwide trend of school districts that have gone to court to seek judgments on their states’ systems for financing public schools. Plaintiffs have already won victories in California and New York.

Additional information on the ruling is available at http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2798240.

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