State education finance lawsuit under review by Texas Supreme Court

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More than four years after the Texas Legislature cut state education funding by $5.4 billion during the 82nd legislative session, hundreds of school districts fighting the state’s education funding formula began to have their cases heard by the state Supreme Court on Sept. 1.

The lawsuit features six different plaintiff groups with more than 600 school districts represented across the state. Cy-Fair ISD is among more than 80 districts represented by attorney David Thompson.

Wayne Pierce, executive director for Austin-based education nonprofit Texas Equity Center, said the Legislature added $1.2 billion to the base allotment for education funding for the next biennium in the 2015 legislative session. However, education has yet to reach funding levels prior to the 2011 cuts.

Despite the drop in state funding, Pierce said overall revenue for Texas school districts has risen 1.5 percent per year as a result of rising property taxes since the cuts in 2011.

The state has not come back to the [funding]levels it was at back in 2010-11, and when you add inflation and the enhanced economy we have, they’re really getting by on the cheap compared to even what it was [then],” Pierce said.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, said the state was facing a roughly $27 billion deficit during the 82nd legislative session. The education cuts were among many tough choices the Legislature made in addressing the deficit.

“You never want to cut education, but it was a time where we had to cut everything,” Harless said. “I think we’ve worked hard to make up the cuts that we’ve done in the past.”

Depending on the court’s ruling, Pierce said Gov. Greg Abbott could call a special session next year to address the issue, which would likely come some time after the March primaries in mid-May or June.

Harless said she does not know how the equity problem between school districts could be fixed as high-growth school districts like CFISD get $5,600 per student from the state while small districts can receive between $12,000 and $20,000 per student.

Meanwhile, 1,000 people continue to move to Texas daily, putting more students in classrooms.

“The only way to solve it is to consolidate the smaller school districts,” Harless said. “It’s hard to get a state representative to say, ‘Let’s go consolidate two rural schools in my district.’ Because those school districts are the largest employers in those little towns. I don’t know how you ever solve the equity part of the finance system when you have situations like that.”

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