school finance

Todd Wiseman, Damian Gadal, Robert Couse-Baker/Texas Tribune

The system Texas uses to pay for public schools was back in court today, and lawyers on both sides argued over whether the system is constitutional. It's an argument that's been going on for more than thirty years.

This particular case started in 2011, when the state legislature cut more than $5 billion from public education. Two-thirds of Texas school districts sued the state, arguing the cuts made it impossible to meet state academic standards. They won in a lower court. But today, the case was argued in the state Supreme Court.

Nathan Bernier/KUT

The Texas House lawmaker in charge of public education has unveiled a plan that he says answers the question: What to do about school finance?

That question has been looming over Texas lawmakers since 2011, when more than 600 school districts sued the state over billions of dollars in cuts to school funding. 

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Today, Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz issued a ruling that finds the way Texas pays for public schools unconstitutional, calling it a de facto statewide property tax.

The case was brought by hundreds of Texas school districts after the state legislature cut $5 billion from public school funding in 2011.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

A decision in the latest school finance lawsuit is expected next week, but it could be years before school districts see any changes to the way education is paid for in Texas.

Right now, the school finance system is largely characterized by something called recapture, or  Robin Hood. If a school district collects more local property taxes than the state has determined it needs using a set of formulas, it has to give the difference back to the state. Then, the state puts that money in a big pot and uses it to fund other school districts, especially those that can’t raise enough local property taxes on their own.

Within the next couple weeks, an Austin judge is expected to rule whether the state’s school finance system is constitutional. Meanwhile, Austin Independent School District officials are worried about how much money the district will have to educate students next year—and five years down the road. 

The reasons for that go back to something called “recapture," a process that means some school districts don’t get to keep all the money they collect. And it's extremely complicated.

Photo by KUT News

As the Austin Independent School District gears up to trim the fiscal fat this budget season, the district faces a tough financial future.

Enrollment is flat, and the school board is preparing to lose more than $1 billion to the state's school finance system over the next five years through "recapture," which shares revenue from districts with high property tax revenues with low-income school districts.

The board met last night to discuss the future for the district next year and in the future.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

There finally seems to be an end in sight in the Texas school finance trial as lawyers gave closing arguments Friday afternoon.

The trial initially examined if Texas constitutionally funds public education. In 2012, District Judge John Dietz preliminarily ruled the system was unconstitutional, but he reopened the trial to see if the actions of the 2013 legislature could change his final ruling.

Kate McGee, KUT News

Update: Travis County District Judge John Dietz heard opening arguments today in the second round of Texas' school finance trial. The two sides are arguing over whether actions taken by the legislature last year change the judge’s preliminary ruling that the state’s public education finance system is unconstitutional.

When the legislature reconvened last year, it added back $3.4 billion for public education after it cut $5.4 billion during the 2011 session. Lawmakers reduced the number of required standardized tests for graduation from 15 to five.

At issue: were those changes enough to create a fair and equitable system to finance public education and allow schools and students to meet the state standards?

How the School Finance Trial Will Impact Texas Education

Jul 16, 2013
Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

If you're confused by the all the lawsuits, arguments and recent rulings in the ongoing Texas school finance case, you're not alone.

Last month, the drawn out saga took a new turn when the presiding judge in the case said he'd need to reopen the case in January to determine whether the way the state pays for its public schools still needs fixing. In essence, it looks like Texas has another six week trial to look forward to.

It seems like now is as good a time as any to get up to speed on where the case has been, and where it could go from here.

The Texas Tribune

One of the men who controls the state’s checkbook is leaving the door open to restoring some of the $5.4 billion in public education cuts enacted two years ago.

House Appropriations chair Jim Pitts took questions from lawmakers on the House floor today, including one from Austin Democrat Donna Howard.

Texas Tribune

The Moody’s credit rating agency says last week’s Texas school finance ruling could have a negative effect on the state’s credit rating.  Last week, a state district court ruled that the present school finance system is unconstitutional, in part because it inadequately funds public schools.

Moody’s is not downgrading Texas’ coveted triple-A credit rating, but the report suggests that could all change if the state is forced to tap its reserves to overhaul the school finance system.

More than 600 school districts from across Texas are celebrating now that Judge John Dietz from the 250th District Court found the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, state attorneys are gearing up to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.   

The lead attorney for the state in this case is Nichole Bunker-Henderson. She told the court, “It is true, as the plaintiffs have alleged, that we have all been asked to do more with less. State agencies cut nearly 10 percent of their budgets, and districts less than half of that. Our system did not collapse," she said. "It did not fall off the bridge. Perhaps the system became more efficient.”

Good morning. The National Weather Service says sunny and warm weather is the order of the day, with expected highs in the mid-70s.

Lead Story: Ten people have died in traffic accidents in Austin so far this year. That’s twice as many as this time last year.

The city has launched a survey as part of an effort to reverse that trend, looking for feedback on how to make Austin safer for cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians. You can find the survey on the city’s website.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

State district Judge John Dietz's ruling that the Texas school finance system is unconstitutional is being celebrated by many school district administrators, but one group involved the lawsuit is probably not popping champagne bottles tonight: charter school advocates.

“We are disappointed that Judge Dietz ruled against charter school students and their parents, denying them constitutional protections,” Texas Charter Schools Association executive director David Dunn said in a statement. He added, however, that they were pleased with the ruling that the overall education system is inadequate.

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

In a decision certain to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, state district Judge John Dietz ruled Monday in favor of more than 600 school districts on all of their major claims against the state's school finance system.  With a swift ruling issued from the bench shortly after the state finished its closing arguments, Dietz said the state does not adequately or efficiently fund public schools — and that it has created an unconstitutional de-facto property tax in shifting the burden of paying for them to the local level.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Good morning. The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for another day of slightly-warmer-than-average temperatures today, with light sprinkles this morning.

Lead Story: A ruling is set be issued to today on whether the appropriation of state school funds is constitutional.

Over 600 Texas school districts sued the state after lawmakers slashed public funding and grant programs by $5.4 billion dollars in 2011.

Lizzie Chen for KUT News

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond testified in the ongoing school finance trial yesterday, saying that Texas businesses can’t find applicants that have the academic and professional skills required. Hammond says that the most educated segment of Texas’ workforce is the soon-to-be retired.

Texas Tribune

January usually marks a mad rush to the local tax office to pay property taxes. If you are a homeowner turning 65 years old, you can apply for a property tax exemption from Travis County and for a cap to your school taxes. It's a  perk for taxpayers that could affect local school districts. 

First, it’s important to note that thousands of Austinites will be turning 65 this year. That’s why last May, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell appointed task force on aging. Angela Atwood serves on the task force. She say “aging is the issue of our time and Austin and Central Texas is an epicenter nationally.”

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A school finance lawsuit underway now could transform how we pay for public education in Texas.

About 600 school districts are suing the state. Arguments started nine weeks ago and could last another month or longer and a decision is not expected until after the next legislative session ends. KUT News spoke with David Hinojosa, an attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Austin Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen is expected to take the stand again today in the school finance trial.

AISD is one of about 600 Texas school districts suing the state. AISD says the state has increased academic requirements, but failed to provide funding to pay for it.

The Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education last year.