On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an appeal by the State of Texas and the two groups of intervening plaintiffs (intervenors) who did not prevail at the district court level in the latest round of school finance litigation. Previously, Travis County District Judge John Dietz agreed with three groups representing school districts, taxpayers, parents and students that the current system is unconstitutional. Dietz ruled against the so-called Efficiency Intervenors, who argue that the current system is qualitatively inefficient. He also ruled against most of the arguments of another group of intervenors representing charter schools. These rulings were appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

The state, represented by attorneys in the office of the Attorney General of Texas, argued Tuesday that the issues before the Supreme Court were matters to be solely determined by the Legislature and were not appropriate for the court to determine. The state also argued that the case was not ripe for determination, as the current accountability system has yet to be fully phased in. According to the state’s attorneys, the determination of whether the system is adequate is solely a function of measuring educational outputs and not related to inputs such as funding levels.

The three groups who prevailed in district court argued Tuesday that the current system is inadequate and inequitable. They also argued that it constitutes an unconstitutional statewide property tax. The groups pointed to the inability of large percentages of students to graduate from school at the college-ready standard required by the Legislature. They also pointed to the lack of increases in funding since the current school finance system was put in place in 2006, particularly taking into account the massive cuts in education spending in 2011. The two groups representing property-poor districts and English language learners complained about the growing gap in funding between relatively wealthy and property-poor districts, while the group representing richer districts (known as Chapter 41 districts) pointed out the difficulty of convincing local voters to approve tax authorization elections when much of the money that is raised is recaptured by the state.

The charter school attorneys mainly complained about a lack of equal funding for charter schools, particularly the lack of direct state support for facilities funding for open enrollment charter schools.

The Efficiency Intervenors called the current system "qualitatively inefficient" due to what they assert are inefficient mandates such as teacher rights and benefits and elementary class-size caps. In addition to asking the court to declare the entire system unconstitutional, this group asked the court to repeal Chapter 21 of the Education Code, which includes the minimum teacher salary schedule, teacher due process rights, duty-free lunch, planning and preparation periods, etc. Among the other members of this group is the Texas Association of Business, which represents most of the chambers of commerce in Texas. TCTA members might want to help inform their local chamber members of the importance of protections such as elementary class-size caps. 

If the original plaintiffs in the case prevail, the Supreme Court will likely reinstate an order that will either require the Legislature to fix the unconstitutional system or shut down all state funding for schools. If they prevail, it is unknown at this time whether such an order will apply in the fall of 2016, which would require a special session of the Legislature next year, or whether the court would give the Legislature an opportunity to address the issue in the next regular session in 2017. The oral arguments in the case can be viewed at http://goo.gl/YyQ8SF.