Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ignoring Judge Dietz: Dome's school finance plans risk judicial wrath

Editorial / Dallas Morning News

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Go back to the argument that lawyers representing poor school districts made last year about how Texas funds schools. The attorneys told state District Judge John Dietz that legislators either look into the state's kitty to see what's available or simply ignore schools' needs.

To us, that's what is still wrong with the Legislature's attempt to fund schools. Legislators are funding only the amount that – for political reasons – they can live with, meaning everyone fears raising taxes to improve schools.

Legislators may feel like that's all they can do, but Judge Dietz understood the plaintiffs' point of view. He sided with them, as well as with plaintiffs from rich districts, declaring legislators had until October to adequately fund schools.

Unfortunately, lawmakers are up to their old tricks and not meeting Judge Dietz's admonition. The House has offered about $3 billion extra for the next two years, while the Senate is likely to approve an extra $2.8 billion this week.

The Senate would help with programs like bilingual education, but it won't allow schools to repair the deep cuts they've made recently in their teaching ranks and course offerings. Heck, one superintendent told us he's struggling to pay for maps. It's hard to compete with India and China if your students can't even find them on a map.

Here's another reason to worry about the shortfalls. The state needs to reduce achievement gaps between districts. Judge Dietz argued this point eloquently:

"The key to changing our future is to close the gap in academic achievement between the haves and have-nots," he wrote. "The rub is that it costs money. It doesn't come free. So, are Texans willing to pay the price, to make the sacrifice to close the education gap, to secure their future and their children's future?"

Our hunch is yes, but legislators won't ask them. They want to keep funding schools on the cheap. That's the sad reality, and Texans can only hope the Supreme Court justices who will soon review Judge Dietz's ruling are watching. It's Texas' future we're talking about here.
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