Brown County school superintendents said Tuesday they're pleased at a judge's ruling on Monday that the system Texas uses to fund public schools violates the state's constitution.
But there aren't likely to be any immediate changes because the state is expected to file an appeal that will likely end up before the Texas Supreme Court, superintendents said, and the state legislature isn't likely to address an overhaul of the system while the appeal is pending.
State District Judge John Dietz ruled the state's school funding mechanism is unconstitutional because it does not provide enough money to school districts and fails to distribute it fairly, a landmark decision that could force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for education.
"We're very pleased with that," Blanket superintendent Kevy Allred said. "The only bad thing about that is, it's just the first step. We've won the first battle. We haven't won the war yet."
Dietz declared that funding was inadequate and that there were wide discrepancies in state support received by school districts in wealthy parts of Texas versus those in poorer areas. He also said the system is tantamount to an income tax, which is forbidden by the state constitution.
It was the second time in less than a decade the state has been ordered to remake its school finance system. Dietz said he would issue a written ruling elaborating on his announcement in about a month. The state can then appeal the case directly to the Supreme Court, which could order the Legislature to remake the system.
But a ruling from the high court is not likely to come until the end of the legislative session in May, meaning Gov. Rick Perry would need to call a special session in 2014. In the interval, the state's school finance system remains unchanged.
May superintendent Don Rhodes said the current session of the Texas Legislature will have to finance education but he doesn't expect any changes in the session.
"The state's going to appeal it, so that's going to stretch it out for another year," Rhodes said.
In the Brookesmith school district, superintendent Dr. Jay Smith said he hopes legislators "will take it upon themselves to do more for schools" in this session, agreeing that there will be a long process for an appeal and for the legislature to actually overhaul the funding system.
Smith said it is significant that Dietz said "we either want increased standards, and are willing to pay the price, or we don't."
"So many times, what we end up with in education are mandates that are unfunded," Smith said. "If you're going to increase accountability, you have to increase funding."
Early superintendent Brett Koch said it's unfortunate that "various organizations and school districts across the state had to sue the state, and a judge had to make a determination that the school finance system is unconstitutional I would agree with the judge.
"I think it's imperative our legislators act now and now allow another biennium to pass." But Koch, noting the likelihood of the state's appeal, said, "I think we are going to be operating under the current finance system for another biennium."
Koch said he hopes the outcome will be "an adequate and equitable system for all districts throughout the state. we're struggling with it right now."
In Blanket, Allred, noting that Gov. Rick Perry has asked lawmakers to return $1.8 billion to taxpayers, asked, "why don't we put that money into education?"
Allred said the Blanket district has had a deficit budget for the past two years and has had to delay projects such as replacing aging school buses.