When might we get a Supreme Court ruling on school finance?

When they’re damn good and ready is the usual answer for Supreme Court rulings, but in the case of school finance lawsuits they usually act with some measure of speed.


Given past rulings and politics — three justices on the nine-member, all-Republican court are up for re-election next year — the consensus among experts and insiders is that a decision will come early next year and likely will require a 2016 special legislative session because it will favor, at least in part, the 600 school districts suing the state. That could mean that a school finance fix is in place before the next school year.

For the justices who will be on the GOP primary ballot, “the perfect situation” would be for a ruling to come after that March 1 contest, said Austin-based lobbyist and political consultant Bill Miller.

“If I were on the ballot, hypothetically, and I’m a justice, I want the election over with before big, monumental decisions are released,” he said, noting that judicial candidates now are expected to talk more openly about their rulings on the campaign trail.


A more important date than when the court rules is what deadline it might give the Legislature to come up with a fix, said Sheryl Pace, a senior analyst at the business-backed Texas Taxpayers and Research Association who specializes in school finance. (That’s assuming the court upholds at least part of a 2014 district court ruling that struck down the state’s school finance system as unconstitutional, which Pace thinks will happen.)

Past school finance rulings indicate the court is “usually concerned” not with elections but with giving the Legislature time to implement a fix before the next school year or until the end of the next regular legislative session, Pace said.

With no legislative session until 2017 — and considering the amount of time the court has taken to rule in the past — Pace is predicting a January 2016 ruling with a fix-it deadline six months after that.

The current school finance case is the seventh of its kind to reach the high court since the mid-1980s. In the six previous cases, the court typically has taken anywhere from two to eight months to rule from the time it hears arguments, according to dates provided by the research association.

But Houston-based lawyer David Thompson, who has worked on all seven school finance lawsuits, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the court takes longer to rule than usual — “early next spring is certainly reasonable” — because there are more parties involved who are “making some different argument than the court’s ever dealt with.”

See here for the background. The last time the Supreme Court had to deal with this, they said that adequacy was not yet a constitutional issue, but it was getting there. That’s the big question here, whether the state will be forced to put more money into public education, though of course there are a lot of other issues in play as well. The AG’s office was basically dismissive of this claim, not really putting up any kind of defense but more or less asserting that it was obvious that the state was meeting the adequacy requirement. Nothing would please me more than for that argument to be forcefully dismembered, but I have no idea what to expect. At least we won’t be in suspense for too long.

On a side note, this is awesome.

In June, [an HISD Student Congress] subcommittee began work on an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court. They wanted to address the inadequacy of public school financing from the student perspective. Together with [Amy] Fan and [Zaakir] Tameez, a group of ten students started writing the brief in early August. This month, they filed it.

The students wrote the entire amicus brief on their own. It took months of brainstorming, planning, and outlining. “Even then, it took three different re-writes, dozens of hours meeting with each other, and probably hundreds of hours total between each student who contributed to researching, interviewing, and writing,” Tameez said.

Mostly, the brief relies on students’ personal stories. And it’s received nationwide attention. Says Amy Fan, the current Speaker of the Student Congress, “We may be young, but that’s precisely what makes this brief genuine and accurate.”

The HISD Student Congress is, you may recall, made up of students, who wrote and submitted that brief on their own. Pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.

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