Hundreds of Texas school districts are back in court after a judge reopened the lawsuit that previously declared Texas's school finance system unconstitutional.
After the Texas legislature cut $5.4 billion from public schools in the 2011 legislative session, State District Judge John Dietz handed down his ruling that Texas's education funding scheme was neither sufficient nor fair. But after about two-thirds of the funding cuts were restored in the 2013 session, he recently reopened the case.
In his position as Attorney General, Greg Abbott has been defending the $5.4 billion in cuts in the lawsuit against school districts representing two-thirds of Texas public school children. He says it's just part of his job – something he is required to do. Except it's not.
Read why after the jump.While it would be unusual for Abbott to choose not to defend state law, it is neither unprecedented nor illegal. According to David Richards, former head of litigation at the Texas Attorney General's office, it is well within Abbott's right to move to settle the suit.
In a memo, Richards wrote that Abbott has the authority to pursue, stand down or settle litigation on behalf of the State of Texas:
“Without a doubt the office of Attorney General has ample authority to resolve pending lawsuits by settlement. Somewhat recent examples are the settlements in the long running Ruiz litigation over Texas prison conditions and Morales v. Turman, which was the suit against the Texas Youth Commission, as well as redistricting litigation in the 1980s, which was resolved by settlement and a consent decree…
Additionally, Texas' Constitution and case law provide clear precedent that establishes the Attorney General's discretionary power to settle cases. For example, in 1991, there was an attempted settlement during the redistricting challenge to the state senate. The Supreme Court scuttled the settlement, but it did say-in an opinion by Nathan Hecht, now Chief Justice-the following: “The Attorney General, as the chief legal officer of the State, has broad discretionary power in conducting his legal duty and responsibility to represent the State.”
Abbott has more of a choice in the matter than he is letting on, which is why he has been avoiding questions about his education record. “I can't go back and reconstruct what was done in that legislative session, which was of course two legislative sessions ago,” Abbott told a San Antonio charter school in December. In a campaign stop in Plano, he again declined to condemn the cuts. The pattern has continued for months.
Meanwhile, during her time in the legislature, Wendy Davis fought against budgets that stripped funding from school and filibustered the budget bill that imposed the original $5.4 billion in cuts.
In a recent address to the Equity Center (an organization that advocates on behalf of children in under-funded Texas school districts), Davis spoke about the need to adequately fund schools in order to keep Texas's economy strong. As governor, she said, she will ensure that “school districts across our state won't have to go to court to get me to fulfill my responsibility under the Constitution to adequately fund our schools. We cannot compete if our schools are inadequate.”