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Texas school funding still unconstitutional

 A judge has again declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional, reaffirming his 2013 decision despite $3.4 billion in extra classroom funding approved by the Legislature last summer.

State District Judge John Dietz's written opinion Thursday followed his verbal ruling last year that public school funding was inadequate.

He also said the "Robin Hood" system doesn't share funding fairly between school districts in wealthy and poor areas.

The Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011, prompting more than 600 school districts statewide to sue.

Dietz's initial ruling followed a 3-plus month trial. But he reopened the case in January and heard new evidence, after lawmakers restored $3.4 billion to schools in 2013.

The written ruling can now be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

 

Here's a look at major dates in Texas' school finance debate:

 

   - 1984: Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio files a legal challenge arguing Texas' school finance system is inequitable

 

   - 1989: The Texas Supreme Court throws out the state's school funding law after finding "glaring disparities" between rich and poor school districts.

 

   - 1993: Days before a court-imposed deadline threatened to close Texas schools, the state Legislature forces school districts in areas with high property values to share their tax collections with poorer districts as a way to fund schools.

 

   - 1995: The Texas Supreme Court upholds the share-the-wealth system, nicknamed "Robin Hood."

 

   - 2003: Attorneys for property wealthy school districts argue before the Texas Supreme Court that school funding plan is inefficient and has created an illegal statewide property tax after many districts pushed collections to the legal limit. Nearly 300 other districts eventually join the case and expand its claims against the state to include that the funding system is inequitable and fails to provide sufficient resources.

 

   - 2004: After a trial involving more than 300 districts, state District Judge John Dietz rules the education funding system unconstitutional and inefficient, and orders the state to halt school spending in October 2005 if problems aren't fixed.

 

   - 2005: The Texas Supreme Court rules that local property taxes for school funding amount to an unconstitutional statewide tax.

 

   - 2006: The state Legislature cuts local school property taxes by one-third while allocating more state funding. To ensure no district loses money, lawmakers place minimum funding requirements to districts based on a temporary freeze in the amount of money districts spent per student that year. The temporary freeze is never lifted, however. The Legislature also caps tax rates at $1.17 per $100 of property valuation and lets district choose how much to levy in taxes, giving them "meaningful discretion" over tax rates.

 

   - Oct. 11, 2011: More than 360 school districts organized by the Equity Center sue the state, alleging that the school finance system is inequitable because property wealthy school districts often receive more revenue than poorer districts despite levying lower property tax rates. They also allege that school funding is inadequate to meet the state's accountability system.

 

   - Dec. 9, 2011: The Texas School Coalition, representing more than 60 property wealthy school districts, files suit charging that state funding is inadequate and that the $1.17 cap on tax rates constitutes an illegal state property tax.

 

   - Dec. 13, 2011: The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sues, claiming state funding is unfair to districts with a large number of students requiring instruction to learn the English language, and that the system itself is inadequate and inequitable and that the tax rate cap is an illegal state property tax.

 

   - Dec. 22, 2011: Sixty-three school districts, including many of the state's largest, file suit claiming state funding is inadequate and the tax rate cap is an illegal state property tax.

 

   - Feb. 24, 2012:  Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education sues on behalf of five families, asking the courts to address inefficiencies in how state education funding is spent. The influential Texas Association of Business subsequently joins the suit.

 

   - June 26, 2012 - The Texas Charter Schools Association and six parents file suit, claiming charter schools should have access to public money for facilities and that there should be no limit on the number of charter schools statewide.

 

   - Oct. 22, 2012 - School finance trial begins in Austin before Judge Dietz.

 

   - Feb. 4, 2013 - Dietz rules that the school finance system is unconstitutional, finding that it doesn't provide adequate funding and that state funding is not distributed in an equitable way.

 

   -  Jan. 21, 2014 - Dietz convenes second school finance trial to determine whether more money and fewer standardized tests have adequately improved the balance for students in rich and poor areas.

 

   - Aug. 28, 2014 - Dietz reaffirms school finance system is unconstitutional despite restored funds by the Legislature.

 

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