Judge reopens school finance lawsuit

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AUSTIN — To consider the impact of newly passed legislation, a judge who earlier this year declared the state's school finance system unconstitutional on Wednesday reopened the lawsuit that led to the ruling. Hundreds of school districts in several plaintiffs' groups sued the state last year, arguing the current finance system fails to provide adequate funding or to distribute it equitably. In February, state District Judge John Dietz called Texas' school finance system unconstitutional, but he has not issued a more detailed, final ruling. He said this month that he would consider reopening the case if there was agreement among the various parties. At the start of Wednesday's hearing, Dietz likened the case to the TV program "As the World Turns," saying the comparison was not because it resembles a soap opera but because it seems never to end. Lawyers representing some of the plaintiffs and the state asked to have the case reopened to allow consideration of recent legislative action, including changes to the state's testing system and the partial restoration of state funding to school districts. Dietz heard brief statements from each of the parties before declaring it necessary to determine if any newly passed legislation could change the circumstances of the case. He set a Jan. 6 trial date and asked attorneys to determine by July 17 which bills need to be discussed. Mark Trachtenberg, an attorney representing the so-called Calhoun County ISD plaintiffs group of 88 property-wealthy districts, including Alamo Heights ISD, argued the lawsuit would be kicked back to Dietz's courtroom on appeal if the impact of the new legislation wasn't heard. "We don't think it's in anybody's interest to have this case go up to the Texas Supreme Court on an incomplete record," he told Dietz. "We believe that we will still be able to prove that the system is unconstitutional but we believe we need to do that on the most up-to-date information available. But David Hinojosa, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who represents a half-dozen districts with large numbers of English-language learners and low-income students, including Edgewood ISD, said the new legislation doesn't take immediate effect and its impact has yet to be seen or documented. He said after the hearing that he was disappointed with Dietz's ruling. "Reopening this trial in January will only delay the justice our kids deserve," Hinojosa said.

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