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School finance lawsuit to proceed

The elephant in the room during the whole school finance reform mess has been a lawsuit by a bunch of school districts, HISD included, which charges the state with not meeting its funding obligations. Today a motion by the state to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that it’s a political question was denied.

Judge John Dietz of Travis County denied the state’s motion to throw out a lawsuit brought by more than 260 school districts that claim the Texas Legislature is not adequately funding education.

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Rose said his office will not pursue an immediate appeal but might challenge Dietz’s ruling after the trial is completed.

Opening statements in the West Orange-Cove lawsuit are scheduled for Aug. 9. The trial before Dietz is expected to last about six weeks.

Assistant Attorney General Amy Warr argued that school funding is a political question entrusted to the Legislature under the Texas Constitution.

She also said that local school districts are in partnership with the state in providing an adequate education. “The court can’t put itself in the middle of a debate between the Legislature and the districts,” Warr said.

David Thompson, a lawyer for a group of districts that includes Houston ISD, said the court isn’t being asked to make the policy determination of how much education the state should provide. Instead, he said, the issue is whether the Legislature is fully funding the education curriculum it has adopted.

Dietz noted that the Texas Supreme Court “made short shrift” of the state’s jurisdictional argument when it ruled last year that the West Orange-Cove case should proceed to trial.

There still appear to be a few dying embers of support for some kind of special session, even if it only deals with property tax reduction, but I don’t see it going anywhere. Speaker Craddick’s position for some time now has been to wait until January, or at least after the suit has been disposed of, and though I’m sure he’s been the recipient of some arm-twisting, I haven’t seen any reports that indicate he’s wavered. We’re also rapidly approaching the deadline for getting a ballot measure approved, a big deal since any major reform would require a Constitutional amendment. The trial begins August 9, and I feel pretty sure that will be the next step in this process.

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