School Finance Lawsuit

Daily Digest | April 23

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

After a reported boiling point between the “Big Three” first reported by Texas Monthly, all eyes are on a perceived divide between the leadership in the two chambers at the Capitol. Our Karina Kling will be looking into the political timetable for the Legislative leadership, and what it means for key bills heading into the last month of the session.

Two high-profile bills are on the list of legislation on the Senate’s agenda. Senate Bill 19, regarding prosecution of public corruption cases, is in the spotlight. The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg told us on last night’s show that frustration is growing in the Governor’s Mansion over ethics reform, and this bill could be on its way to a veto if it remains in its watered-down form. The second bill, Senate Bill 185, is the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. It would revoke state funding for police departments in those cities that do not ask detainees about their immigration status. The bill’s author says he wants to enforce immigration laws, while opponents say the bill would turn Texas into an anti-Latino “show me your papers” state, and would make the community less likely to cooperate with law enforcement.

We have two members of the House joining us on “Capital Tonight.” House Public Education Committee chairman, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, whose school finance reform bill was sent to the full chamber earlier this week, will join the show to explain how he plans to fix the funding formula for Texas public schools. Then, the newest face in the lower chamber will join the show. Ina Minjarez won Tuesday’s House District 124 runoff election, and will take over the last open seat in the Legislature. We will talk to the representative-elect about the awkward timetable of coming into the session so late, and ask what she wants to accomplish for the city of San Antonio in the remaining days of the 84th Legislature.

All this, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will give their takes on the week’s headlines on “Capital Tonight.” That’s at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | April 21, 2015

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are the guests of honor at the unveiling of the new headquarters of the right-leaning think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation. The new six-floor building is located about two blocks from the Capitol grounds. Their speeches were followed by presentations from big-name donors like Red McCombs, Jim Henry and Dr. Jim Leininger.

The House Public Education Committee’s plan to fix the state’s school finance system is on its way to the full chamber. Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s $3 billion dollar plan would increase funding for 94 percent of kids in the state, and would increase per-student funding to poorer districts more than it does wealthy ones. The bill passed out of committee on a 7-0 vote. It comes after massive cuts two sessions ago, and a court ruling that the current funding formula is unconstitutional. That ruling is now on appeal with the Texas Supreme Court.

The reactions to controversial bills approved in both chambers yesterday are still coming in. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo voiced his opposition to an amendment to the House open carry bill. And public school advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas released a cartoon video opposing the Senate’s school scholarship tax credit plan, which opponents call a back-door plan to school vouchers. The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg talked about all this and more last night on our show, and you can watch that here.

And a lighthearded end of the day at the Capitol. The House Culture, Recreation and Tourism committee will meet to discuss proposals to name several state superlatives. That includes everything from the cowboy hat as the official hat to naming the western honey bee as the official State Pollinator of Texas.

On tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight,” Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples joins the show. He’ll discuss the ban on local fracking regulations, and give us an update on the Texas oil and gas industry. Plus our Capital Commentators — political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi — will give their take on the week’s headlines.


Texas Candidates for Governor Respond to School Finance Ruling

Any possible changes the Texas Legislature makes to the school finance system will happen under the watch of the next governor. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is the current attorney general. His office represents the state in school finance litigation. Officially, his office said he would defend this law in court, just as he would any other law passed by the Legislature.

Later Thursday, his campaign released this statement:

“Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely. My plan will make Texas top-ranked in the nation for education by returning genuine local control to school districts, ensuring all children are reading and doing math at grade level by third grade, and graduating more students from high school than ever before.”

Sen. Wendy Davis is also weighing in on today’s ruling. She has long criticized the Legislature’s decision to slash $5.4 billion in school spending in 2011. In a statement Thursday, she said:

“Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans. The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven’t been working for our schools; they’ve been actively working against them. Abbott has been in court for years, defending overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and public-school closings, and today, Judge John Dietz ruled against him. This ruling underscores the crucial need to invest in education and reminds us of just how much our schools, teachers and students have had to sacrifice over the past three years just to get by.”

Judge sets date for new school finance trial

The judge in the state’s school finance case has set a date to hear new evidence, based on changes the lawmakers made to education funding this legislative session.

In February, State District Judge John Dietz ruled that the way the state finances schools was unconstitutional. It was based on massive education funding cuts and stricter graduation requirements passed in 2011. Dietz also found disparities between property rich school districts and property poor districts.

The state asked the court to reopen the case based on laws passed during the current legislative session. Lawmakers elected to restore $3.4 billion in education funding and also reduced the number of standardized tests necessary for students to graduate. Lawmakers also passed a bill that creates a vocational path to graduation.

The more than 600 districts that sued in 2011 maintain the entire school funding formula is flawed and that the additional funding won’t fix the basic problem.

Dietz said Wednesday the case will go back to trial on Jan. 6th. He has scheduled six weeks of testimony to hear what the new funding means.


Capital Tonight: Public education issues still unresolved

Back to School

More questions are being raised in about the state’s school funding system.

Players from both sides of the school finance lawsuit were back in court Wednesday in an effort to get District Judge John Dietz to admit public education changes passed out of the 83rd Legislature as evidence. But many of those changes are still up in the air, pending Gov. Rick Perry’s signature — or his veto pen.

Campus Construction

As the special session creeps slowly along, some lawmakers are holding out hope that their legislation will make it on the call.

One push in particular is gaining a lot of attention. Legislation that would have approved about $2.5 billion in tuition revenue bonds fell through in the final hours of the regular session, but backers of the bills are hopeful it will be considered during the special session.

Candidate Perspective

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stopped by the studio to give his take on the regular session as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Click the logo below to see the full interview.