Today the Supreme Court of Texas issued a long-awaited ruling on yet another legal challenge against the state’s school finance system. As we’ve reported on extensively here at Teach the Vote, numerous school districts sued the state claiming that the funding system was unconstitutional, and a district court agreed in a decision written by Judge John Dietz.
The Supreme Court today reversed the district court’s ruling that aspects of the school finance system are unconstitutional, finding that it does meet the minimum standards for constitutionality. The court did affirm the lower court’s rejection of claims by a group of intervening plaintiffs, including Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education and the Texas Association of Business, who argued unsuccessfully that the public education funding system is wasteful and inefficient. The high court also remanded the case back down to district court for the purpose of reconsidering an award of attorneys’ fees. Click here to read the ruling, which was written by Justice Don Willett.
An excerpt from the decision reveals that the court took a decidedly narrow approach to ruling on the case, acknowledging that there are many serious flaws in the system but declining to recommend specific changes from the bench. Justice Willett wrote that the court’s “responsibility is not to second-guess or micromanage Texas education policy or to issue edicts from on high increasing financial inputs in hopes of increasing educational outputs. There doubtless exist innovative reform measures to make Texas schools more accountable and efficient, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Judicial review, however, does not licence secondguessing the political branches’ policy choices, or substituting the wisdom of nine judges for that of 181 lawmakers. Our role is much more limited, as is our holding: Despite the imperfections of the current school funding regime, it meets minimum constitutional requirements. Imperfection, however, does not mean imperfectible.”
ATPE believes that the Supreme Court today rightfully acknowledged that the current system of funding our schools “is undeniably imperfect” but that the burden to fix it lies with the legislature and not with the courts. “Courts should not sit as a super-legislature,” wrote Justice Willett in today’s opinion. While we agree that it is not the court’s role to legislate, we at ATPE are still disappointed that the court applied such a low standard for evaluating the resources that go into making our public education system work at the same time that our students and educators are being held to such high standards and expectations for successful outcomes.
As we have done for years, ATPE will continue to press lawmakers to take their responsibility seriously and to provide the legislative solutions that will make our school finance system not simply “minimally” acceptable under the constitution, but in line with all of the state’s other expectations for our public schools. The burden is on the legislature to act, but it is also on voters to elect lawmakers who will have the fortitude to make the necessary decisions. The court seemingly acknowledged this responsibility, too, today when it stated, “While Texans may desire a public education system that produces even ‘better’ results or better results more quickly, their remedy lies in the Legislature and thus in the privilege and duty that all Texans have to elect the legislators who will implement the policy choices they desire.”
The court also stated today that “Texas’s more than five million school children deserve better” and would benefit from “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.” We couldn’t agree more. It is time for the legislature to respond to the needs of education stakeholders and take the court’s admonition today to “seize this urgent challenge” to bring our public education funding system into the 21st century.
Related content: View ATPE’s press release on today’s ruling.