Like deja vu all over again, and again and again and…
The Texas Supreme Court is again faced with determining whether the state’s method of funding public schools is unconstitutional, the latest in a series of school finance challenges stretching back more than 30 years.
In oral arguments Tuesday, lawyers representing the state argued that the current system lives up to constitutional mandates that it provide a “general diffusion of knowledge” to public school students. Attorneys for the more than 600 school districts who sued the state said money cut from public education was never fully restored even as lawmakers instituted tougher standards on students.
“This is a case about who gets to decide and who sets education policy in the state. Our argument is simple: It’s the people’s representatives. It’s the Legislature,” Solicitor General Scott Keller said after the hearing. While the system isn’t perfect, he said, lawmakers rather than the courts should determine the future of school finance.
“The state’s interest here is (to) end this perpetual cycle of litigation,” Keller said.
I would certainly agree that the Lege has it within its power to fix this problem once and for all, or at least for longer than seven years at a time. The fact that we do keep coming back to the courts strongly suggests that they do a lousy job of it. There’s a reason why the conventional wisdom – backed by quite a bit of reality – is that the Lege only really addresses this when the Supreme Court orders them to do so. For a different perspective:
Richard Gray III, representing 443 school districts including Pflugerville and Hutto, said other statistics prove the state education system is falling short of its goals — including that only 38 percent of low-income students and English-language learners capable of earning a passing grade on entry-level college courses.
“I think that screams at you that this system is not doing what it desires to do,” Gray said.
Marisa Bono, representing school districts with high numbers of low-income students, said the state finance system “provides more advantages to students who already live in the most advantaged school districts.”
“Every year, the state delivers tens of thousands of young people into our economy who are wholly unprepared,” Bono said.
Arguing on behalf of large school districts, including Austin, Wallace Jefferson said the Legislature has failed to create a finance system that meets its goal of preparing high school students for college or a career.
“We believe we have proved that the system fails the Constitution because we have done the analytical work that the Legislature has failed to do,” said Jefferson, former chief justice of the court.
One hopes former Justice Jefferson knows how to get through to his erstwhile colleagues. We will get a decision when they’re damn good and ready, which for school finance cases usually means in a few months, so early-ish in 2016. Don’t worry, any special session will be for after the primaries. Trail Blazers and the Observer have more.