By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas school finance system violates the state constitution because it is inequitable and is not adequately funded, a state district judge ruled on Monday.
District Court Judge John Dietz also declared that the system prevents school districts from exercising meaningful discretion in setting tax rates as required by the constitution.
Lawyers for hundreds of Texas school districts besieged by rapid population growth and deep budget cuts argued in a massive school finance trial that the state has not adequately funded public education or resolved inequities among districts.
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's 5 million school children.
Similar battles are playing out across the country. Active school finance lawsuits are pending in 16 states, including Texas, according to the National Education Access Network, which tracks such court action across the country.
In Kansas, a three-judge panel ruled in January that the state was unconstitutionally short-changing its students by underfunding education needs and must increase spending by about $400 million.
(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)