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AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - A Texas judge ruled on Thursday the state's school finance system was unconstitutional because it does not adequately or fairly provide money to public schools, a decision that could force an overhaul of how the state pays for education.
The decision from State District Judge John Dietz next heads to the state's Supreme Court, legal experts said. The funding issue has already been a political football in the election season, with Democrats seeing the decision as a rebuke of Republican plans to pay for schools.
"The court ... finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas school children," Dietz wrote.
Dietz ruled in 2013 that the legislature had violated the state's constitution by cutting $5.4 billion in education funding that came as schools were facing new testing requirements.
The result was widespread teacher layoffs and larger class sizes as schools struggled to meet higher state and federal standards and school enrollment soared, attorneys for the districts said.
Lawmakers in the state with a $1.4 trillion yearly economy responded by adding $3.7 billion in funding, but Dietz said in the Thursday ruling that move was not good enough because it did not fix systematic problems.
The legal action was brought on behalf of about 650 of the state's 1,000-plus school districts, accounting for some 3.7 million of Texas' 5 million school children.
State Senator Wendy Davis, who is the Democratic nominee for governor in the November elections, quickly weighed in saying: "Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that's at the core of who we are as Texans."