Last month, Travis County Judge John Dietz ruled that the $5.4 billion cuts to public education that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in 2011 were unconstitutional, striking a victory for Texas students. Greg Abbott’s office, who is defending the cuts, plans to appeal the ruling in the Texas Supreme Court–but if students are ultimately victorious, billions of dollars will be restored to Texas’ public education system.
The lawsuits have been extremely costly and another important part of Dietz’s ruling was that the state would have to cover the legal fees for the districts suing the state. That tab has been over $8.5 million so far, and will continue to grow throughout the appeals process.
The Texas Observer provided a good breakdown of the school districts’ legal fees so far, and how much more an appeal will add:
- – TTSFC (Equity Center) attorney fees: $1,888,705.91 plus $325,000 on appeal to the Supreme Court
– Calhoun County (Haynes & Boone) attorney fees: $2,609,642.57 plus $500,000 on appeal to the Supreme Court
– Fort Bend ISD (Thompson & Horton) attorney fees: $1,733,676.75 plus $400,000 on appeal to the Supreme Court
– Edgewood ISD (MALDEF) attorney fees: $2,194,027.92 plus $325,000 on appeal to the Supreme Court
These potential costs to the state are on top of how much it has already cost Abbott’s office to defend the education cuts. As the Texas Tribune noted, “a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office said the state had not calculated” those costs.
Unsurprisingly, Abbott’s office objected to the ruling, saying that the costs Dietz awarded were excessive, such as travel costs for the lawyers and witnesses over the course of the 55-day trial. However, Dietz said the award was “equitable and just,” stating:
“The litigation involves districts from across the state with different interests and perspectives. It is entirely predictable and necessary that plaintiffs’ counsel would be drawn from across the state.”
Fortunately, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have said that if they receive any money from the state, they will refund that amount back to the school districts. That means that the money will go back into districts’ budgets and benefit students.
Nonetheless, it’s a strong reminder that Greg Abbott prefers to spend taxpayer money defending policies that hurt Texans instead of helping them. With priorities like that as attorney general, it’s clear he wouldn’t stand up for Texans as governor either.