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State demographic shift key component in school finance lawsuit

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TWC News: State demographic shift key component in school finance lawsuit
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Tuesday marked the second day of testimony in the class action lawsuit which features about two-thirds of Texas school districts as plaintiffs, and which could change the way Texas funds its public education system.

Former State Demographer and Rice Chair Professor Steve Murdock is testifying for all the schools. He says a healthy public education system today is healthy for all Texans tomorrow.

"The younger population, if it's going to be competitive, which is advantageous for both young and old populations, has to do so with education," Murdock said.

Legislative estimates from 2011-2012 place a $47.4 billion price tag to educate Texas kids in public schools. Under the current system, a complex web of taxing mechanisms is in place to fund public education statewide.

State Revenue streams property lease and sales, offshore oil assets, and other mineral earnings all pump money into the Permanent School Fund. Other school finance sources include lottery sales, used car sales, taxes on tobacco, oil and natural gas, and franchises. General revenue accounts also chip in.

In the same budget year, the federal government contributed $5.6 billion. Property owners make up the lion's share in this equation, paying over $21 billion dollars to educate Texas' kids.

Statewide, the average cost is $7,200 to educate each student.

Demographer Murdock painted a not-so-bright economic future picture for Texas if current processes continue. That is, if current trends of cutting public education continue--while the population continues to grow--the effects will be felt beyond the socially disadvantaged and undereducated minority populations.

"Their need is our need in terms of how will they do in terms of education will become increasingly how well the state does," Murdock said.

The cost of paying for public education is rising with its population. By 2050, the state population is estimated to be as high as 35 million, up from the current number of 24 million.

In 2010, state figures show the average household income to be $66,000. By 2050, Murdock says that average income will dip by the time you adjust for inflation, meaning Texas families will be poorer than they are now.

"That means Texas household would be $7,700 poorer in 2010, constant dollars in 2050 that what it does in 2000," he said.

Humble Superintendent Guy Sconzo is battling the state a second time. He was a part of the 2004 School Finance lawsuit where the same judge in this case ruled the state’s public education funding inadequate and inefficient.

The State Supreme Court ruled the way Texas pay for education does not violate the Texas constitution.

"It's going to take a lot of guts to provide a state budget that has the revenue to in effect put their money where their mouth is," Sconzo said.

For its part the state says it is allocating money fairly, but that the individual districts aren't spending that money wisely.

The trial is expected to last into January.

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