Rockdale ISD exults over judge’s ruling

Texas school finance ‘unconstitutional;’ appeal expected

AUSTIN—Austin District Judge John Dietz on Monday ruled the state’s school finance law is “unconstitutional,” setting up a virtually sure appeal to the Texas Supreme Court and touching off a cautious celebration among the plaintiffs.

Those include the Rockdale and Milano ISDs. Rockdale ISD was one of the first districts to contest the state’s finance plan in court.

“The ruling was a step in the right direction for public school children in Texas,” Dr. Howell Wright, Rockdale ISD superintendent, said. “Personally and professionally, I am thrilled about the judge’s ruling.”

There is, of course, a big caveat. An appeal by the state to the Texas Supreme Court is a foregone conclusion.

SPECIAL SESSION—“If Judge Dietz’s ruling is upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, it should produce funds for educating our students at the level of expectations from the state,” Dr. Wright said.

“If the Texas Supreme Court upholds any, or all of the decisions made by Judge Dietz, it appears a special session will be called in the spring of 2014, following the primary elections, to address the decisions of the court,” he said.

Dietz’s ruling, as have so many in past school finance lawsuits, hinged on the Texas Constitution’s prohibition of a statewide property tax.

Dietz said wide disparities have emerged between “poor” and “rich” school districts and that the legislature effectively imposed a statewide property tax because local districts have such limited taxing capacity left.

E duc at ion C ommi s sioner Michael Williams viewed Monday’s ruling as “simply one step on this litigation’s path.”

He said all sides have known that the Texas Supreme Court would make the final decision.

‘GOOD DAY’—Dr. Wright noted that the judge upheld all the points raised by the plaintiffs, coalitions which include 60 percent of the state’s 1,000-plus school districts.

“It is important that the people in our district understand that everything we asked for in this lawsuit was won, adequate funding, equitable funding, sustainability of the system and discretion from a state property tax,” Dr. Wright said.

“It was a good day for the Rockdale ISD and for the students of Texas.”

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