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After Court Win, Texas Legislators Mull Tying K-12 Funding, Performance

What happens when a state's legislature beats more than half its school districts in court over whether it equitably and adequately distributes hundreds of millions of tax dollars? 

We're about to find out. Earlier this spring, the Texas' Supreme Court justices surprised school funding and legal experts and district officials alike by saying that while the state's funding formula was byzantine and clearly ineffective in improving academic results for the state's poorest students, it was not their place to tell the legislature how to spend its money, according to local media reports.  

With the years-long trial behind them and a legal precedent set, several lawmakers now want to dole out money based on how well the state's schools perform academically.

The proposal, surfaced Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, during an education committee session, has received a strong backlash from the state's educators who say such a formula would disproportionately impact districts with hyper-concentrated populations of poor, black, and Hispanic students that typically perform worse on state tests. Funding cuts would only compound academic and social problems associated with schools that serve a disproprotionate amount of poor students.

Educating poor students costs significantly more money because they typically require smaller class sizes along with wraparound services such as school nursing and after-school activities, educators have long complained. 

The state's conservative legislators said Wednesday they're looking for ways to better spend education dollars, while at the same time improving educational outcomes. 

"I think that in the 21st century, we should be looking at other markers of success besides just showing up," Republican Sen. Paul Bettencourt, an education committee member told the Texas Tribune. 

Across the country, the majority of states distribute funds based partially on enrollment and the amount of poor students a district has, according to a recent study released by the Education Commission of States. 

But those sorts of weighted funding formulas are becoming increasingly unpopular as states are more and more being placed on the hook for education costs, which have inflated in recent years. As states pick up more costs, legislators have wanted to have more of a say over how districts spend their money.  

New Jersey's governor earlier this summer proposed tossing this sort of weighted funding formula, and Kansas officials are considering adopting a formula partially dependent on school performance. California in 2014 instituted a funding formula based on several measures, including how well the neediest students are served.  

Coming up with a new statewide funding formula in Texas would face legal and time hurdles, and the state already is undergoing a review of its accountability and standardized testing.  


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