AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) - A coalition of Texas school districts have sued the state, arguing the school finance system is unfair, inefficient and unconstitutional, according to the filing announced Tuesday.
Three Central Texas districts -- Pflugerville, Hutto and Taylor -- were the among the first to support the legal action. Their names are among the seven listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit. The other school districts include Hillsboro, Nacogdoches, San Antonio and Van.
Plaintiffs say a "patchwork" funding system that has been cobbled together over the last several years doesn't treat Texas school children or taxpayers fairly.
"The way their money is being allocated to public school districts today -- it's random, there's no order to it," said Pflugerville Superintendent Dr. Charles Dupre.
The lawsuit is expected to be the first of many. It was filed by the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition , which represents more than 150 Texas school districts.
It's the first lawsuit since lawmakers slashed $4 billion in public school funding over the summer.
"We need to be able to raise more revenue to provide more programs and services for our students," said Hutto Superintendent Dr. Doug Killian. "We really didn't think there was another option."
"It's unfair for the kids," said Dawn Mays. "Classes have been cut. There's more kids in the classroom now."
Mays has three kids in the Hutto school system and notices the changes, especially since the closing of Veteran's Hill Elementary. The school is now leased to a higher education center. The students that used to go there are now dispersed throughout the system. In order to compensate, 5th grade students were added to the district's middle schools.
"The kids don't benefit as much as they did in the past," Mays said.
Pflugerville and Hutto ISD argue their students and taxpayers have been suffering since the state froze funding for all school districts starting with the 2005-2006 school year. The state set a cap on how many state and local dollars districts can bring in based on property values and populations at the time.
Both cities have experienced rapid growth since that time.
"It's not about just trying to get more, it's about trying to say this isn't fair," said Dupre. "Students in Pflugerville are at a disadvantage when you compare us to other districts in the area who have thousands more spent on each student in their district."
School district participating in the suit are shelling out taxpayers dollars to participate. The amount is based on the number of students attending school each day.
Hutto ISD says they are spending about $6,000 to be a part of it, and the Pflugerville school board voted in favor of spending $28,000. If the case drags on in appeals, the coalition could ask school districts to pitch in even more.
Both district say the investment is a smart move because it could ultimately bring millions more dollars into the district if they come out on top.
For that to happen, the Texas Supreme Court would have to rule the system unconstitutional and state legislators would have to go back and fix the problems.
"I just hope it goes through in favor of the Hutto school and the other schools that file the lawsuit," Mays said. "I think the kids will benefit if they win."
Plaintiffs had hoped the Legislature would address the school funding system during its most recent legislative session. But facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved $4 billion in cuts to schools in June, the first decrease in per-student spending in Texas since World War II.
Lauren Cook, a spokeswoman for the Equity Center, which is organizing the coalition, said plaintiffs hope a trial court rules in time to give guidance to lawmakers before they meet for the next regular legislative session in 2013.
Among the defendants named in the suit is Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott.
TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said the agency heard the lawsuit was coming.
"We're still analyzing it right now," said Culbertson on Tuesday afternoon. "It's really an issue the courts and legislature will have to resolve."
The agency is working with the Texas Attorney General's office to prepare an official response.
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