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Largest school finance lawsuit in Texas begins to take shape

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TWC News: Largest school finance lawsuit in Texas begins to take shape
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As students head back to classes for the 2012 – 2013 school year, lawyers will be arguing for many of their futures in court.

More than half of the state’s school districts are currently part of four lawsuits against Texas’ school finance system. Their complaint: state funds in Texas are not being distributed equally among the state's school districts.

Pflugerville Independent School District Superintendent Charles Dupre said this is a first for his district, but claimed the legal action is necessary because his district has been significantly underfunded compared to neighboring districts since 2006.

"Every student in this state is worth the same amount and there's just no getting around that," Dupre said.

Lauren Cook works with the Equity Center, a group spearheading one of the lawsuits against the state. She said matters were only made worse when Texas’ Legislature slashed school funding during their recent session.

"When they chose to cut public education by $5.3 billion, it became more of a no-option,” Cook said. “This is what we have to do."

The conflict between rich and poor school districts over funding is nothing new for Texas, but now the two sides have formed an alliance.

Scott McCown, a former district judge who heard four previous school lawsuit arguments, said the districts all want, and need, more money.

"In the past, there were always districts aligned with the state,” he said. “Now, there are no districts aligned with the state. Every single district is unhappy, maybe for slightly different reasons, but all are making a strong case that the system is not fair, not adequately funded and they don't have discretion over their local taxes."

The legal battle will be back in Travis County Judge John Dietz's court. He ruled on the 2004 Texas School Finance system which led to the system Texas has in place today.

A timetable of events has not been officially set, but a fall district court date is expected and a ruling could be in place by the 2013 legislative session. Appeals could still run for years after that ruling.

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