State's turn to present arguments in Texas school funding trial

AUSTIN – After nearly two months of testimony from plaintiffs, the state of Texas began its arguments in the ongoing trial over the state’s school funding system.

Nearly two-thirds of the school districts in Texas are involved in lawsuits claiming that the state’s “Robin Hood” finance plan – poor districts get to take money from wealthier districts – is inequitable, harms minority students and violates the state constitution. All the suits have been combined into one case that began trial in October before U.S. District Judge John Dietz in Austin.

According to The Associated Press, Assistant Attorney General Shelley Dahlberg said the state will “show, not only how the Legislature’s policy decisions are rational and not arbitrary, but also look at how well Texas is performing nationally."

However, on Dec. 6, an education policy expert said that Texas ranks slightly above the national average according to students’ scores on a national achievement test. According to AP, Grover Whitehurst of the Washington-based Brookings Institute also testified that although the state’s overall rank is 29th, Texas is among the nation’s leaders in student achievement for black and Hispanic students. It is 11th in achievement among students from economically disadvantaged families, said Whitehurst, according to AP.

Whitehurst also said that there wasn’t enough research to agree with some academic conclusions that “if more money is spent, students would suddenly perform better.”

He said he would look at ways to improve schools that don’t have a major cost, “instead of jumping immediately to the most-costly option,” according to AP.

At the same time, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said he is committed to putting billions of dollars back into the public schools after the Legislature cut $5.4 billion out of public education funding last year. Those huge funding cuts led to the current round of lawsuits.

According to a Dec. 7 interview with The Associated Press, Strauss said Texas has weathered the recession and now has a growing economy, growing population and growing revenues. He said that gives lawmakers more options.

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