Photo of gavelThe Texas Classroom Teachers Association filed a brief in Travis County district court on July 20, 2012. The brief of amicus curiae supports a motion by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) to dismiss a plea in intervention that was filed by a group that calls itself the “Efficiency Intervenors" to join its claim onto the pending Texas school finance litigation.

The Intervenors group comprises “parents, students, taxpayers, and/or business entities” including a nonprofit corporation called Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education. The corporation’s executive director is Kent Grusendorf, the former House Public Education Committee chairman who pursued education “reforms” such as eliminating the state minimum salary schedule and teacher contractual protections for certain districts. The Texas Association of Business is also part of the group.

The Intervenors’ plea in intervention seeks to add the group’s claim to the existing litigation against the school finance system. But while other plaintiffs, such as Edgewood ISD, challenge the system based on equity and adequacy issues, the Intervenors’ claim is quite different.

The Intervenor Agenda

The Intervenors argue that a lack of consumer-driven competition causes the school finance system to be inherently inefficient. The group says that the statutory cap on charter schools breeds inefficiency, as do many of the provisions of Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code that contain teacher certification standards, benefits and rights such as duty-free lunch and preparation periods.

The group also argues that statutory provisions restrict districts from converting to home-rule school districts, which are subject to very few provisions relating to teacher rights and benefits, student discipline, or even parental and student rights contained in the Education Code.

For a remedy, the Intervenors ask the court to declare multiple statutes unconstitutional, including all certification standards and educator rights and benefits in Chapter 21, 22-to-1 class-size caps for K-4, caps on the number of open-enrollment charter schools that can be authorized by the State Board of Education, and standards that apply to home-rule school districts as well as several other statutes.

TCTA’s Brief

In the amicus brief, TCTA requests that the court grant it the status of amicus curiae – a phrase meaning “friend of the court” that refers to an entity that is not a party to the litigation, but that believes the court’s decision may affect its interest. The brief states that the outcome of the school finance case will directly affect the contract rights and benefits of TCTA members. TCTA also filed an amicus brief – and was the only teachers’ association to do so – during the original school finance litigation in 1989.

The current TCTA brief argues that the Intervenors have no legal standing, which requires “real or threatened harm specifically affecting the plaintiff,” to challenge the constitutionality of the school finance system or individual statutes within the Texas Education Code.

Intervenors’ Lack of Standing

The brief points out that while the Intervenors call themselves a group of “parents, students, taxpayers and/or business entities,” they don’t specify that the students are public school students – like those represented by Edgewood – or that the state’s failure to provide an efficient public school system has impaired their educational opportunities.

The brief also points out that the Intervenors’ attempt to question the constitutionality of specific statutes makes their potential for standing even more tenuous:

“Intervenors do not have standing to ask the court to invalidate or order the change of statutes so as to allow every school district to operate under the same provisions that apply to charter schools, eliminate standards that apply to Home Rule school districts, invalidate all of the employee rights and benefits contained in Chapter 21 of the Education Code, eliminate the cap and standards for approving charter schools, eliminate the Cost of Education Adjustment, eliminate Elementary Class-size caps, or selectively eliminate standards applying to Public Education Grants. The claim that the requested remedies will likely redress any concrete, particular interest of any Intervenor is clearly speculative, conjectural, hypothetical and incapable of being determined by the courts.”

Political Questions Inappropriate

The TCTA brief also argues that the trial court lacks jurisdiction to address the “purely political” questions raised by the Intervenors, as those types of questions are not within the purview of a court of law but rather of the Legislature.

TCTA writes in the brief that while the Intervenors’ requests for relief include the declaration that the school finance system as a whole is unconstitutional, they also request the court declare very specific statutes unconstitutional, solely because they disagree with the public policy the statutes perpetuate.

The brief notes other attempts by members of the Intervenors to further their political agenda. It states: “Former Representative Kent Grusendorf … is well aware the demands the Intervenors make upon the court are of a purely political nature as he authored many pieces of legislation to address these very matters.”

The brief notes that in 2003, Grusendorf authored bills concerning:

  • school boards issuing temporary certificates for persons holding certain degrees
  • exempting certain districts from paying the minimum school salary schedule
  • broadening provisions related to the nonrenewal of teacher contracts
  • providing that districts or campuses rated exemplary be subject only to provisions that apply to open-enrollment charters
  • recognized and exemplary districts creating compensation plans including market-based plans
  • instituting a pilot voucher program

The Legislature did not pass any of these bills, and in fact, the brief notes, several did not even make it out of the committee over which Grusendorf presided. 

The TCTA brief also notes that, in 2005, Grusendorf filed House Bill 2, which contained “excellence exemptions,” which would have eliminated the application of Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code to certain school districts. That legislation also failed.

“Having no success with the Legislature,” the TCTA brief notes, “former Representative Grusendorf now requests the court do what he was unable to accomplish.”

The Future of the Intervenors’ Plea

Filing the amicus brief does not make TCTA a party to the school finance legislation, but it allows the court to consider the association’s perspective and written arguments, which support MALDEF's motion to dismiss the Intervenors’ plea in intervention.

MALDEF has also opposed the Intervenors’ plea and has requested a hearing, which will be held Aug. 21, 2012. The TCTA brief to the judge presiding over the hearing asserts the rights of TCTA members as the judge considers whether to dismiss the plea in intervention.

If the plea is dismissed, the group has said publically that it will appeal the decision. Such an appeal could delay the main trial proceedings, which are scheduled to begin Oct. 22, 2012.

Read the complete TCTA brief of amicus curiae.

 

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