Legislature Seeks to Restore Some Funding

Students Te-Undria Henderson, 16, (left) Tramell Saphius, 15, and Shampaigne Allen, 17, take notes in a biology class at the Dallas ISD’s Roosevelt High School. Some education advocates are concerned about the effect of state budget cuts on equality in Texas public schools. Photo by John F. Rhodes/Dallas Morning News.

 

By Beth Cortez-Neavel and Eileen Tay
For InvestigaTexas and The Dallas Morning News 

After cutting more than $5 billion from schools two years ago, the Legislature is looking to restore part of that. But some education advocates worry it won’t be enough.

The money struggles also are being waged in the courts, where a judge in February sided with more than 600 public school districts that had sued the state.

In a preliminary ruling, state District Judge John Dietz said the funding system was inadequate, inequitable and in violation of a ban on a statewide property tax.

State officials, who are expected to appeal, say they are doing a good job paying for public schools.

“Over the last decade, we have adhered to the conservative fiscal principles of low taxes, fair regulations and living within our means, while still pumping billions into public education,” said Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman, Josh Havens.

The Legislature, in its final month of work, has signaled that it will make up some of the budget cuts made in the last session.

But some educators say that unless Texas fixes its school financing method long term, the state is in danger of creating an increasingly unequal environment between property-rich and property-poor districts.

State aid cuts often result in bigger classes, less mentoring and fewer remedial classes for students who most need help.

Some districts had to raise taxes or seek donations to keep offering extracurricular programs. Districts with poorer students, often black or Hispanic, sometimes couldn’t make up for the money losses.

“We’re not investing what we need to get them up to the standards they deserve,” said Josh Sanderson of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

See the full report by Beth Cortez-Neavel and Eileen Tay at dallasnews.com/racialdivisions.

Key Findings:

The Texas House wants to give school districts about $3 billion over the next two years, making up some of the $5.3 billion that was cut in 2011.

The Senate has voted to restore about $1.5 billion. But it is expected to increase that in talks with the House to hash out differences in a joint committee that will draft a final budget before the Legislature adjourns this month.

Lawmakers are awaiting a final ruling from a state judge who in February declared the current school finance system unconstitutional. The state is expected to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Depending on its ruling, lawmakers could be called back to work on school funding in 2014.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a special report on resegregation and disparity in Texas public schools. The rest of the report includes stories on charter schools, magnet schools, Hispanic students and crime in schools. The report is also available at The Dallas Morning News.


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