TCTA notified members May 13, 2016, that the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s school finance system is constitutional. The court ruled against all claims from a myriad of plaintiffs; the legal challenges had included both the adequacy of state funding and the equity of the distribution method. The court reached its conclusion by applying a “very deferential” standard that “maintains a default position of deference to the Legislature” with regard to whether the state has created an adequate and equitable school finance system.
Read on for more details from the written judicial opinions, and reactions from state leaders. While some were pleased that the court chose not to uphold the district court’s ruling of unconstitutionality, others pointed to pervasive comments in the court’s decision that the legal determination of constitutionality did not mean that the court considered the system to be ideal.
From the opinion by Justice Don Willett:
Our Byzantine school funding “system” is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements.
It is safe to say that the current Texas school system leaves much to be desired. Few would argue that the State cannot do better.
From the concurring opinion by Justice Eva Guzman and joined by Justice Debra Lehrmann:
I … write separately to further emphasize that there is much more work to be done, particularly with respect to the population that represents the majority of the student base — economically disadvantaged students.
Good enough now…does not mean that the system is good or that it will continue to be enough. Shortfalls in both resources and performance persist in innumerable respects and a perilously large number of students is in danger of falling further behind.
From the concurring opinion by Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd, joined by Justices Debra Lehrmann and John Phillip Devine:
Our decision in this case will no doubt be a great disappointment to many, and perhaps a cause for celebration for others. … And what it definitely is not is an expression of personal opinions on how Texas should fund and operate its public school system.
The Court has not previously concluded, and does not conclude today, that the Legislature’s decisions in the school-finance arena have been wise or desirable. All the Court concludes today is that they have not been so arbitrary and unreasonable as to fall below the minimum constitutional standards.
Reactions from state leaders
Gov. Greg Abbott
Today’s ruling is a victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision ends years of wasteful litigation by correctly recognizing that courts do not have the authority to micromanage the State’s school finance system.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
Today, the Texas Supreme Court confirmed what we already knew. Texas’ school finance system, while imperfect, is constitutional. I will continue to look for ways to improve our state’s school system performance and quality, while developing options to expand school choice for students across the state.
House Speaker Joe Straus
While I am grateful that the Supreme Court has found our school finance system to be constitutional, it's important to remember the Court also said there is ample room for improvement. The Texas House will continue working to deliver value for taxpayers and provide an outstanding education for our students.
Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor
Our current school finance system is like layers of Band-Aids, placed on top of each other in response to numerous judicial decisions over several decades. Today's Texas Supreme Court decision provides the Legislature an opportunity to tackle our overall school funding structure, remove all the Band-Aids, and start anew with an updated and simpler system that addresses the needs of our continually growing population.
House Public Education Committee Chair Jimmie Don Aycock (who is not returning to the Legislature next session)
So what is ahead? First, the schools shouldn’t bet on extensive funding changes in the foreseeable future.