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Texas Districts Sue Over School Funding System

A group of Texas school districts and taxpayers is suing to overturn the state's education funding system, which they argue unfairly punishes financially struggling schools.

The lawsuit, filed in Travis County district court, alleges that heading into this year, Texas used an "arbitrary hodge-podge of approaches" to fund its schools, one that gives richer school systems greater access to funding.

The situation was made much worse, the districts contend, with deep cuts to school funding approved by Texas' Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Rick Perry this year.

Texas officials, who faced a major financial shortfall heading into this year, approved a two-year, $172 billion budget, and changed state law so that they could provide schools with $4 billion less over the next two years than they had been required to fund them under the states' foundation formula.

As a result of the state's funding system, taxpayers in relatively impoverished districts who are willing to tax themselves at the highest possible rates "are unable to access the same dollars for education as taxpayers in high-wealth districts" who pay lower taxes, the lawsuit says.

The system is not "efficient, suitable, or equitable," the districts claim, and "it violates the equal protection rights of students in low-wealth districts." The lawsuit calls for the court to block Texas officials from distributing money through the funding system until they create a fairer method for doing so.

The Texas Education Agency is still reviewing the lawsuit, spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said.

"Obviously, this is an issue that the courts and the legislature will ultimately have to resolve," she said in an e-mail.

School budget cuts in Texas have had a disruptive effect on some districts across the state, particularly as schools have tried to meet staffing needs while also coping with layoffs and cuts through attrition. School funding cuts have also emerged as a campaign issue. President Obama railed against teacher layoffs during a recent foray into GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry's backyard.

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