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A Quick Update: The School Finance Lawsuits


by: Michael Hurta

Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 10:00 AM CST


About three months ago, we reported that almost two million students were likely represented between two separate school finance law suits. I suggested that at least one would likely make headway. Well, it turns out that there are at least four major school finance lawsuits, and they all have made significant headway.

Besides the school finance lawsuits represented by the Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition and Thompson & Horton, there are also cases from MALDEF and the "Texas School Coalition." In December, Morgan Smith at The Texas Tribune published an excellent explanation piece of the different cases. Here's the basics:

Districts typically sue the state on three different grounds: efficiency, adequacy and what's called “meaningful discretion.” The Texas Constitution requires that the state provide efficient and adequate funding for public schools. It also says that school districts must have the ability to choose how they spend money they bring in from property taxes. (Download all of the available complaints in the lawsuit, including the state's response, to the left.)

2011-12 School Finance Lawsuits
 Texas School CoalitionTaxpayer and Student Fairness CoalitionDavid ThompsonMALDEF
WhoAbout 60 property-wealthy districts, including Alamo Heights ISD, Eanes ISD and Highland Park ISDAs of last week, 381 districts, primarily mid-to low-property wealthA variety of districts, including the state's largest, Houston ISDDistricts with large portions of low-income and English-language-learning students, including San Antonio's Edgewood ISD.
Property TaxXXXX
AdequacyXXXX
EquityXX
RepresentationHaynes & BooneEquity CenterThompson & HortonMALDEF  

All four cases have now been assigned a hearing with Travis County's Judge Dietz. John Dietz, Judge of the 250th District Court (a civil bench), is one of this county's elected officials. And if you recognize his name, it might be because he was the same judge who heard the 2004 School Finance lawsuit(s)...and found the Texas school finance system unconstitutional back then.

That's more than half of the school districts and students in the State of Texas in one court here in Travis County. We're still waiting on a timetable, but a fall hearing is expected. While a ruling this year is still a possibility, appeals could keep the case within the courts for a matter of years. It is also not yet confirmed whether or not Judge Dietz will hear all four cases at once or separately. If there is no remedial action, however, a gigantic set of lawsuits against the state will clearly be a backdrop to both the November elections and the 2013 legislative session

Further, a fifth lawsuit has been considered.

Clearly, Rick Perry, the only Republican with the power to help undue his party's public education debacle right now, clearly doesn't get the message. Not only is his state being heavily litigated against by a majority of his constituents, but calls for a Special Session to clean the mess only grow louder and louder. Thus far, public calls for a Special Session have come from Republican statesman and  Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the State Democratic Executive Committee (who unanimously passed a resolution just this past weekend).

The response from the Governor's office has been the same multiple times: 

"There are no plans to call a special session on this or any other issue. Thanks to Gov. Perry’s fiscally conservative leadership Texas has a balanced budget and has increased funding to Texas public schools by billions of dollars,” Perry spokeswoman  Castle said.

I'm not the only one coughing an expletive or two at the arrogance of Rick perry and his Texas Republican Party. Being sued by the people you represent should be a sobering experience, but Governor Goodhair is even more oblivious to his failed public policy than he once was to his failed Presidential campaign. 

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