For decades, the state’s 1,000-plus school districts vied against one another for a bigger piece of the financial pie. Now two-thirds of state districts have joined forces to say the system is unfair because it doesn’t provide adequate funding for all.
The state’s high court is expected to rule any day now on a lawsuit filed by those districts, which could force Texas lawmakers into a special session next summer. The districts hope the high court’s ruling will prompt lawmakers to overhaul the system as early as June 2016.
“School funding formulas in Texas are at least 30 years old,” said J. David Thompson, Houston-based attorney for the moderate-wealth districts, such as Dallas and Fort Worth. “Some of our formulas were determined when Ronald Reagan was president and before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Many say that the current case in front of the high court is the most far-reaching school finance lawsuit in state history because it represents the broadest coalition of state districts.
“Now, there are other problems with the system that are affecting all of us,” said Thompson, who represents moderate-wealth districts, like Fort Worth.
Randall “Buck” Wood is the longtime Austin attorney for property-poor districts that filed the initial set of school finance suits, which began in the 1980s and led to Edgewood IV. Three decades later, Wood said he never thought that he would be on the same side as property-wealthy districts.
“Everybody tried to support everybody else,” said Wood, whose group also represents the Arlington school district. “There wasn’t any backbiting.”
Houston’s Mark R. Trachtenberg, attorney for property-wealthy districts, says it’s no longer an adversarial situation.
“In this case, again, the Legislature cut $5.4 billion out of public education in 2011 and it impacted property-wealthy and property-poor districts,” said Trachtenberg, who represents the Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville, Northwest, Plano and Highland Park school districts.
“It’s been a long time since Edgewood IV,” he said.
See here and here for the most recent updates. The story is a pretty good primer on How We Got Here that’s worth your time if you want a refresher, but the main news is what I highlighted. I should note that the predictions made in that last link for when we’d get a ruling were “January” and “springtime”, so if we really are in “any day now” mode, it’s going to hit a lot sooner than people expected. (This Trib story about Ken Paxton whining about school finance litigation contains a note that Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht suggested January as a likely time frame, though “any say now” was still possible.) If the Supremes throw the finance system out and basically force the Lege to come up with some number of billions of dollars to make things whole, that could have a significant effect on the upcoming Republican legislative primaries. I mean, that’s one reason why everyone figured the ruling would be later rather than sooner, to take the primaries out of the equation. We’ll know soon enough.