Texas Supreme Court Finds Education Funding Constitutional

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

After three decades, the Texas Supreme Court has unanimously agreed that the state’s school funding system is constitutional. The decision confirms Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) and Republican legislative leaders’ declarations that the schools system is progressing.

The governor and lawmakers had also contended that the amount of funding given to schools is a “political question” best left to the executive and legislative departments of the state government, not the judicial system, according to Robert T. Garrett of The Dallas Morning News.

“Despite the imperfections of the current school funding regime, it meets minimum constitutional requirements,” said the court’s opinion by Justice Don Willett. All eight other justices joined him; four joined two concurring opinions, but there were no dissents.

Abbott hailed the ruling as a “victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution.”

But teacher organizations and education leaders of many of the state’s approximately 600 school districts that sued the state said the court members were more interested in their political futures than the 5 million Texas students their decision affects.

Dr. Albert Cortez, a funding disparities expert, said the justices were not interested in putting in the hard work necessary to understand the data they were given. The Texas Supreme Court has nine Republican judges whose decisions reversed the assertions of Travis County District Judge John Dietz, who is a Democrat.

Dietz’s opinion is that the Legislature failed to provide adequate and suitable funding for schools. He added that the amount was inefficient, which means that there are unacceptable differences in the amount spent in “property-poor” districts and the amount spent in “property-wealthy” communities.

Although significant legal clashes have occurred over classroom funding in Texas six other times, this is the second time the Supreme Court has not found the finance system unconstitutional.

Texas has what is called a “Robin Hood” education funding system, meaning that it takes money from the wealthier districts and shares local property revenue with communities that are poorer. Since there is no state income tax in Texas, schools must depend on property taxes, says Will Weissert of the Associated Press.

Gov. Abbott, who was attorney general when the case was filed in 2011, said the decision was a victory for “Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution.” He added that this would be the end of years of “wasteful litigation.”

At the time the case was filed, lawmakers had cut education funding by $5.4 billion, and per-pupil spending was below the national average by $1,700. Along with that, annual school enrollment was growing by almost 80,000 pupils each year.

The state spent $9,561 per K-12 student in this academic year, according to the National Education Association. This number is still below the nationwide average by over $2,500 and gives Texas a ranking of 38th in the nation.

Meanwhile, the country’s foremost Hispanic civil rights organization censured the state’s Supreme Court’s findings. The group felt the court failed the children who were most at risk and paid no attention to the achievement gap that the economically disadvantaged and English Language Learning young people are experiencing.

Marisa Bono, lead counsel in the case for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said:

“When I read this opinion the first thought that comes into my head is that the Texas Supreme Court has abandoned its role to protect Texas children.”

Texas has roughly 5 million public school children, over half of whom are Latino. Thirteen percent of the state’s pupils are African-American, writes Suzanne Gamboa for NBC News.

The Associated Press reports that Noel Candelaria, the Texas State Teachers Association president, said the high court decided to do the least that it could do to educate Texas children, and that the judiciary is arguing that the least that can be done is enough.