Athens Review, Athens, Texas

February 5, 2013

Local ISDs chime in on ruling

District judge rules in favor of coalition, including several Henderson County school districts

Rich Flowers
Athens Daily Review

Athens — Several Henderson County school districts were party to a lawsuit brought by the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition and others against the state of Texas, concerning its method of school funding.

The 200th District Court Judge John Dietz of Travis County ruled in favor of the coalition on Monday, stating that the school finance system violates the efficiency provisions of Article VII of the Texas Constitution, and fails to provide substantially-equal access to the revenues necessary to provide a general diffusion of knowledge.

The Athens Independent School District, Eustace ISD, Kemp ISD and Mabank ISD are members of the plaintiff group that filed suit in October 2011. About 40 percent of the state’s school districts are in the TTASFC. Malakoff ISD is a member of the Texas School Coalition, which has 89 members. The remainder of the Henderson County school districts were not involved in the suit.

Eustace ISD Superintendent Coy Holcomb reported the court’s decision on the EISD website. Holcomb stated that, “Overall, the ruling is almost exactly what the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition argued. While this ruling is a first step, it is anticipated that the state will appeal the rulings to the Texas Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court could rule on the case by October, Holcomb said.

In his ruling from the bench, Dietz quoted the Constitution, saying, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish suitable provision for the support, and maintenance of an efficient system of free public schools.”

The Taxpayer Coalition suit was filed in October 2011.  Plaintiffs had hoped the Legislature would address the school funding system during its 2011 legislative session. Facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers instead approved $4 billion in cuts to schools in June, the first decrease in per-student spending in Texas since World War II.

After more than three months of testimony, Dietz held that “the Texas public school finance system is arbitrary, inequitable and inadequate under the Texas Constitution, and that low-wealth school districts lack local control over their tax rates.”