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JUSTICES GIVE TEXAS UNTIL MAY TO REVAMP SCHOOL FINANCE SYSTEM

SHARE JUSTICES GIVE TEXAS UNTIL MAY TO REVAMP SCHOOL FINANCE SYSTEM

The Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the state's public school finance system is unconstitutional and gave lawmakers until May to come up with a solution.

The nine-member court, however, said it would not instruct the legislature on what specific steps to take to correct the problem.A state district judge had held the school finance system unconstitutional in a case brought by poor school districts, many of them largely Hispanic, against the state education commissioner and others.

That ruling was overturned in December by a 2-1 vote of the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, but the high court upheld the plaintiffs Monday on the grounds that the constitution required an "efficient" education system.

"We hold that the state's school financing system is neither financially efficient, nor efficient in the sense of providing for a `general diffusion of knowledge' statewide," Justice Oscar Mauzy's opinion said.

With an enrollment of 3.3 million, Texas has the second-largest public school system in the country after California.

Texas school districts with relatively low property values brought the suit in 1984. As in most states, public schools in Texas are funded largely through a combination of local property taxes and state aid. Similar financing systems have been challenged in court in at least 10 other states.

The case is known as Edgewood vs. Kirby, from the lead plaintiff, Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio, and lead defendant, William F. Kirby, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency.

"I'm still, I think, about 20,000 feet over San Antonio," Edgewood Superintendent James Vasquez said after learning of the ruling.

"It's the end of a five-year struggle for me, personally, but it's the end of a 20-year struggle for the school district," he said.