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February 4, 2013

Officials expected school finance ruling

GREENVILLE — Hunt County’s representatives in Austin said they had anticipated Monday’s ruling by Judge John Dietz that the system Texas uses to fund public schools violates the state’s constitution.

But State Senator Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) and State Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van) both noted it will be at least a few more months before a final decision will be announced.

“It is going to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court,” Flynn said.

“They are talking maybe this summer,” Deuell said of when a ruling could come from the high court.

Dietz ruled the funding mechanism does not meet the constitutional requirement for a fair and efficient system that provides a general diffusion of knowledge.

Both Deuell and Flynn said the system as it stands now does not provide sufficient funding to rural school districts, including those in Hunt County.

“The rural school areas are just getting beaten up,” Flynn said.

In 2005, Dietz found the previous funding system unconstitutional and directed the Legislature to devise a new one.

At issue in this case are $5.4 billion in cuts to schools and education grant programs the Legislature imposed in 2011, but the districts say simply restoring that funding won’t be enough to fix a fundamentally flawed system.

“For us it is cutting our arm off,” Flynn said of the cuts, which affect smaller and rural districts more than larger districts. “The rural districts cannot meet the state accreditation standards without more funding.”

One example of the inadequacy of the system as it stands now, Flynn said is that when such court rulings are issued, school districts in larger metropolitan areas have attorneys retained and staff members available to review the cases to determine their impact.

“We’re likely to have the assistant secretary having to look into it all, and that’s not fair,” Flynn said.

Deuell said whatever decision comes down from the Texas Supreme Court will also affect the state’s overall financial picture.

“We’re going to meet and see what we’ll do with the budget at this point,” Deuell said. “We’ll just have to look at the ruling and see how the Supreme Court may go with it.”

For the full story by The Associated Press, see Page A2.

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