Orr: Decision on State Funding Benefits Students

Dawson Orr
Dawson Orr

Count Highland Park ISD superintendent Dawson Orr among those who support yesterday’s ruling of State District Judge John Dietz, which again declared state’s school finance system unconstitutional.

Attorney general Greg Abbott is expected to appeal the ruling, which is scheduled to take effect next summer, to the Texas Supreme Court. The judgment reaffirms a decision Dietz made in February 2013 before he revisited the issue to examine changed made by the Texas Legislature in 2013.

“We’ve all known for years that the school finance system is broken. Judge Dietz’s ruling supported that sentiment,” Orr said in a statement. “While we fully expect the ruling to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, we hope the Texas Legislature will not wait to provide the resources our students deserve. Despite a likely appeal, this ruling represents an important step for the school children of Texas.”

The ruling against the Texas Education Agency specifically addresses the socioeconomic disparities faced by certain school districts in light of state budget cuts that were only partially restored during the most recent legislative session. Texas ranks among the lowest states in the country in terms of spending per student, according to a recent study by the National Education Association.

Last year, HPISD joined the Texas School Coalition, which consists of 124 school districts throughout the state that are seeking school finance reform.

“Because of statutory mandates, rising academic standards and declining state funding, districts have lost meaningful discretion over their local property tax rates and have no opportunity to provide enrichment programming desired by their local communities,” said John Turner, an attorney for Haynes and Boone LLC, which represented the plaintiffs. “Judge Dietz correctly found that this situation results in a de facto state property tax, which is prohibited under the Texas Constitution.”

Meanwhile, state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) said he disagrees with the ruling but acknowledged that the system needs to be fixed.

“While I fundamentally disagree with Judge Dietz’ reasoning and have confidence that Attorney General Abbott will prevail on appeal, it is clear to me that the Legislature must act boldly and decisively in the next legislative session to address this complex and critically important issue once and for all,” Villalba said. “Antiquated and ineffective constructs such as Robin Hood and quasi state-wide property taxes must be eliminated if we are to craft a fair and reasonable finance system that works for all of our Texas public school students.”

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