Just in time for the holidays, Texas’ largest school districts filed the fourth and largest lawsuit on school finance just yesterday. The timing was impeccable, really. Every political hack in the state was already on vacation, the only reason people read newspapers right now is to get a heads-up on after-Christmas sales, and news broadcasts are giving us Santa’s location with greater urgency than actual news.
So, what is this lawsuit about? It charges outright that the state’s method for funding schools is unconstitutional, and that districts lack “meaningful discretion” when it comes to setting their own tax rates. There’s also a charge that the system is inequitable and arbitrary. The state’s largest districts (Austin, Houston, and Dallas) joined 60 other districts in this suit, led by Fort Bend ISD. The press release stated that in Texas history, no such suit has ever been so large, and that fully 1/3 of the state’s students are represented by the districts involved with this suit.
This suit will be heard in Travis County (oh, boy) next fall in conjunction with the other three pending lawsuits. The driving force of each suit is the assertion that the current funding system creates an unconstitutional statewide property tax. There are differences in each, but it is expected that they will be combined. It all centers on the idea that there is not enough money in the system to “equitably” and “adequately” fund schools in Texas.
I do wonder where all my property tax money must be going when I hear that, but okay.
This is important – it is likely that these lawsuits will eventually make their way to the 3rd Court of Appeals. Before that, of course, they’ll be heard in Travis County district court. I know not all of you faithful readers are familiar with the problem we have down here in the blue dot, which is, of course, that it is a Very Blue Dot as far as the courts are concerned. It’s also the largest county, population-wise, for the 3rd Court of Appeals, making it a crucial battleground for those particular races.
Put simply, we need conservatives with a solid understanding of school finance and all the implications therein to serve in our elected judicial positions. The downside is that educrats play this game well – why else file these lawsuits in Austin?
School finance is shaping up to be, once again, the primary issue facing legislators in 2013. With so many demands on our collective pocketbook, we know that the only saving grace for our state will be legislators who are bold and brave enough to make cuts, to find savings wherever possible. They may find their hands tied, however, if radical decisions are made at the judicial level, interpreting the equity clause in our state constitution to mean something more than what it was intended to. Worse, at the local level, school districts are already making the case for higher taxes and greater spending, with nothing to back up their claims that more money equals inherently better education, but playing on parents’ heartstrings nonetheless.
As 2011 winds down, it has become crystal clear that 2012 will be a year of bigger and more strenuous battles. Here’s hoping the holidays provide a sufficient respite for us all, because we will certainly need it if we’re to do battle on all fronts.