Archive for May, 2016

Texas Lawmakers, Education Groups Respond to State Supreme Court Ruling – School Finance System is Constitutional

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ complicated school finance system is constitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday — a decision that handed a major defeat to the 600-plus school districts that sued the state more than four years ago.

The all-Republican court reversed a lower-court ruling that had sided with schools and called the funding set by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011 inadequate and unfairly distributed among the wealthy and poor parts of the state.

“This is a surprising decision after years of legal battles over how public schools are funded. It was the largest case of its kind in recent Texas history. But it means Texas lawmakers won’t have to devise a new funding system next session, although the court called on them to reform it,” said Capital Tonight Texas Anchor Karina Kling.

 

Watch Capital Tonight Texas at 7 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News for More on the Decision and Reaction

Major legal battles over classroom funding have raged six times since 1984, but the latest decision by the high court’s justices marks just the second time they’ve failed to find the system unconstitutional. It also means the Texas Legislature won’t have to devise a new funding system.

“Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements,” the court found in its ruling. “Accordingly, we decline to usurp legislative authority by issuing reform diktats from on high, supplanting lawmakers’ policy wisdom with our own.”

The state’s highest civil court disagreed with Democratic state District Judge John Dietz, who previously declared Texas’ system of school funding — a “Robin Hood” formula in which wealthy school districts share local property tax revenue with districts in poorer areas — inadequate and unfairly distributed. School districts rely heavily on property taxes because Texas has no state income tax.

At issue in the case was the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education and related classroom grant programs that the Legislature approved in 2011, when the state’s economy was still reeling from the Great Recession. That prompted more than 600 rich and poor school districts — which educate three-quarters of the state’s public school students — to sue, arguing they could no longer properly function amid Texas’ public school enrollment growth of nearly 80,000 students annually.

Exacerbating the problems, they argued, was the Legislature’s increased demand for student and teacher accountability as measured by standardized testing scores and tough curriculum standards.

Dietz’s first ruling in 2013 found the state’s system didn’t meet the Texas Constitution’s requirements for a fair and efficient system providing a “general diffusion of knowledge.” State lawmakers responded by restoring more than $3 billion to schools and cutting the number of standardized tests required for high school students to graduate from a nation-high 15 to five.

Dietz reopened the case to hear how that would impact schools, but didn’t change his mind before issuing his written ruling in August 2014, which the state appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. Last year, the Legislature pumped about another $1.5 billion into schools, but that wasn’t enough to cover the 2011 cuts when adjusted for enrollment growth and inflation.

The Texas Attorney General’s office has argued that, while far from perfect, the current system met constitutional standards, though it has refused to comment outside of court or related filings. Abbott was attorney general when the case began before becoming governor last year, but neither he, nor his successor, Ken Paxton, argued the case personally.

Above compiled by AP and TWC News Staff.

Here are reaction statements from lawmakers and education groups:

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. I am grateful for the excellent work of the State’s lawyers at the Attorney General’s Office, without whom this landmark ruling could not have been achieved.” 

 

Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria issued the following statement:

“It is a sad day when the state’s highest court decides that doing the least the state can do to educate our children is enough. 

“Parents and teachers know that educating our children is not about ‘minimum constitutional requirements.’ It’s about right and wrong. 

“Texas spends about $2,700 less per student than the national average, and we continue to fall further behind. Today’s shallow ruling does not make it right to keep shortchanging our children’s schools and putting our future at risk. We will not rest until the state does what is right for our children.”

 

Attorney General Ken Paxton:

“This is an historic ruling by the Texas Supreme Court, and a major victory for the people of Texas, who have faced an endless parade of lawsuits following any attempt to finance schools in the state. We have said all along that school financing must be debated and shaped by the Texas Legislature, not through decades’ worth of ongoing litigation in the court system, and I’m pleased the court unanimously agrees. I’m also grateful for the hard work of my legal team, whose dedication, knowledge and talent helped earn Texas this much-needed victory.”

 

Lt. Governor 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.” 

 

Texas 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.”

Association of Texas Professional Educators Executive Director Gary Godsey said:

“It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court has decided the minimum is enough for Texas public school children. As ATPE has done for years, we will continue to press lawmakers to take responsibility for crafting 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.”

 

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, House Public Education Chairman:

“During the 84th legislative session there was much work done attempting to improve our school finance system. That effort did not come to fruition. While there was reluctance among legislators to deal with the issue, the real and perennial reason school finance is so difficult to deal with is the lack of consensus among school districts and their associations. Each district sees the issue differently and bands together in associations to defend their view.
Last session HB1759 was an attempt to simplify and improve the funding system. Even the proposed $3 Billion funding increase left districts divided about how to distribute the money. All wanted the dollars. None wanted the pain of the needed corrections. When added to those who wanted to wait for the court, and those who don’t support school funding in general, there was simply no way to get the bill passed. I was probably foolish to try. In the end schools got about half the $3 Billion and another (4th) “hold harmless”.

So what is ahead? First, the schools shouldn’t bet on extensive funding change in the foreseeable future. Second, if schools want to change the system THEY must come to a consensus before they expect the legislature to do so. Third, HB1759 was a bill for a moment in time. The money available, the court resolution and other factors will make it unwise to simply refile the bill. Fourth, legislators should continue to look for ways to work toward a simpler and improved funding environment. It will never be easy. For those interested I suggest you watch the HB1759 bill layout ( legislative archives, May 15,2015, hour 2:58 of the session). I believe the relevant issues are still unchanged.

Personally, it is pretty obvious that I am frustrated that after 10 years of trying to improve school finance there has been little progress. It is time for me to move on and encourage others to find new and better funding solutions for the 5.3 million texas school children.”

 

 

Louis Malfaro, president of the 65,000-member Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, commented today on the Texas Supreme Court ruling on school finance:

“Today the Texas Supreme Court abandoned its duty to defend the interests of Texas’ 5.3 million public school students, walking away from its responsibility to confront our broken school finance system.

The deeply conservative court has held that the state system of school funding meets minimum constitutional requirements, but facts are stubborn things, and the facts remain that Texas schools are underfunded, inequitably funded, and force an inordinate share of the cost of education onto local school districts and their taxpayers, while the state fails to do its full part.

The court hides behind a facile argument of judicial restraint. Past courts have seen the wide variation in access to funding between school districts as a violation of the constitutional requirement that the state support an efficient system of public schools. 

As the court acknowledged, “Few would argue that the State cannot do better.” The state got the benefit in this ruling of a court that viewed its role as being “limited to reviewing the constitutionality of the system under an extremely deferential standard.”

The burden remains on the Legislature to do its job of improving the chances of success for Texas schoolchildren. Students’ educational opportunity should not depend on their ZIP Code, and adequate and equitable funding is essential to overcome the many disadvantages a majority of our students faces before they ever set foot in our classrooms. “

 

Democratic Rep. Donna Howard:

“To say that I am disappointed in today’s ruling on school finance would be a great understatement, as it appears the Texas Supreme Court has set the lowest bar imaginable for constitutionality in this case.

“If there is any bright spot to this decision, it is the Court’s recognition that the current system is ‘imperfect, with immense room for improvement.’ On this point we can all agree, and it is incumbent on the Texas Legislature to better ensure that all of our students have access to an adequate and equitable public education.

“For far too long, the state has been neglecting its responsibilities, failing to pick up its fair share of the school finance tab, and pushing the costs down to overburdened local taxpayers. Last session, the Texas House took steps to remedy this through the infusion of an additional $3 billion to public education; unfortunately, the final budget saw this funding cut in half. As a member of the Article III Subcommittee for Appropriations, I will continue to push for additional dollars in the next session, and work to address our outdated funding formulas.

“It is time for lawmakers to move past partisanship, look beyond their local districts, and find a solution which works for all Texas children. The Legislature may no longer have the urgency of a court decision pushing us to address our school finance system. But the needs of our students and the future prosperity of our state demand it.”

 

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:

 

“Our children deserve the best education in the country. Period.  It’s unacceptable that Republicans continue to shortchange our children’s education. Years of court battles, research studies, and outcry from Texas parents and educators have been ignored.

 

“School finance may be complicated, but the fundamental questions at hand are simple: Do we believe our children deserve the best education in the country? Do we believe our children’s teachers should be fairly compensated? Do we believe our children’s classrooms should not be overcrowded? Do we believe our children should have the best tools, resources, and facilities to learn? And do we have the political courage to invest in our children’s future? Republicans have answered ‘no’ to each of these questions.

 

“It is clear now that Republicans do not believe every Texas child deserves a fair shot to achieve their God-given potential. Our children are the future of Texas and our economy. Not investing in them leaves both them and our economy behind. This Republican decision is dead wrong, but Texas Democrats will continue to fight everyday so that every child can get ahead.”

 

 

 

 

Cruz Out, What Now?

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz surprised many last night when he decided to officially end his presidential campaign. The sound of ‘boos’ and ‘no’ echoed among his supporters listening to his concession speech in Indiana. But the writing was on the wall, and Cruz saw it. With Donald Trump now the presumptive GOP nominee, what’s next for Cruz and the Republican Party?

 

The pundits, politicians and party leaders are all weighing in. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said they will support Trump and that other Republicans should too, in order for the party to unite around a candidate to beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Congratulations to my good friend Ted Cruz on a hard fought campaign,” Abbott said in a Facebook post Tuesday night. “Conservatives must unite to support the presumptive GOP nominee and prevent the Constitution from being destroyed by Hillary.”

In an interview on Capital Tonight on Monday, Patrick said he didn’t think Cruz should exit the race if he lost Indiana. But he did, and Patrick said he stands by his word to back the GOP nominee.

Whether other Texans who backed Cruz, or other candidates in the state’s March 1 Primary will follow suit, is yet to be determined. But one did not hold back.

Republican State Rep. Jason Villalba said in a TribTalk published today that “Donald Trump is a disgusting blight upon the American Experience. He is hateful and ugly and a disease to be eliminated. I will not vote for him, and I will work tirelessly to ensure that he is never the representative of the Republican Party that I stand for.”

The inevitable November match-up between Trump and Clinton will continue what’s been referred to as the craziest and most unpredictable presidential election cycle in history.

 

As for Cruz, here are a couple of takeaways from our political analysts Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi from last night’s show recapping the Indiana Primary:

On return to Senate:

Cook – “I personally think it’s dangerous for him to do that. I’m not sure it’s the best platform for somebody’s who’s strength is going around telling voters you’re an outsider.”

“I’m not sure, if he wants to have a future as a future presidential candidate, that’s the choice for him.”

Delisi – “In my mind, he’s got a really bright future but it all depends on what happens this fall. If Trump doesn’t win, I think the Senate does really nothing for Ted Cruz. Then at that point you do exactly what Mitt Romney did. You form a Super PAC, you run around to Iowa and New Hampshire, you help candidates up and down the ballot…you push out all of the national organizations that you built and you crowd out all of the type of people that could do the same type of thing.”

“There are a lot of people that it takes them more than one time to become the nominee of their party.”

On attacking Trump sooner:

Cook – “I think one of the few mistakes that Cruz’s campaign ever made was back last November when Cruz made the assumption that Trump would eventually fall apart, Cruz was going to shower Trump with kindness and therefore Trump’s supporters would gravitate toward Cruz.”

Delisi – “I bet he wish he hadn’t cozied up to him…But look betting on Trump to stumble, I think was a pretty good bet last fall. We’ve never seen anyone like Trump before in the Republican Primary.”

“In Cruz’s world, he played the best hand he played at the time.”

On why he didn’t win:

Delisi: “Something didn’t happen in South Carolina…Cruz didn’t make a case to evangelicals that the guy who’d been married three times, who’s from New York City, who’s a real estate developer, who kind of brags about his social playboy life, you can’t beat that guy in South Carolina, you’re not going to be the nominee.”

 

You can watch the full episode with Cook and Delisi’s analysis here:

http://www.twcnews.com/tx/austin/news/2016/05/4/capitol-tonight-may-3–trump-and-sanders-take-indiana–cruz-drops-out.html