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Texas school budgets get slashed

Judge John Dietz has some deceptively simple questions to answer about how Texas finances public schools.  Article 7 of the Texas Constitution requires the Legislature to "make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools." The Travis County district judge must decide what amount of money is suitable, and how to define efficient.  The trial that began last week will likely last into January when the Legislature returns to Austin for its biennial, 140-day session. The last time lawmakers met they discovered they didn't have enough revenue to give schools what the school finance law's formula said they deserved, based on daily attendance.  So the Republican-controlled House rewrote the formula and gave them $4.8 billion less than the previous law required. The Republican-led Senate approved those cuts and slashed grants to schools by another $600,000. Republican leaders then announced that from then on, they will decide school budgets based on what funds are available, not what a formula says schools need.  In the meantime, lawmakers will spend this spring drafting a new budget for public schools. Conservatives have already drawn a line in the sand, insisting that more money is not the answer, while Democrats have made the issue the cornerstone of their campaign to rally support and regain relevance in Texas politics.

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