Supreme Court issues school finance decision

Friday the 13th was indeed unlucky for the many school districts that alleged that our school finance system is unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court of Texas came together on this—unanimously upholding the current system, warts and all.  Herewith just a few quotes from the opinion, written by Justice Willett:

For the seventh time since the late 1980s we are called upon to assess the constitutionality of the Texas school finance system, a recondite scheme for which the word “Byzantine” seems generous.

In this round, more than half of the State’s 1000 plus school districts have brought the most far-reaching funding challenge in Texas history. We are presented with a court reporter’s record exceeding 200,000 pages and a trial court judgment accompanied by 1,508 findings of fact and 118 conclusions of law. Dozens of briefs, many filed by new parties raising new claims, frame the intricate arguments now before us.  The depth and breadth of Texans’ attention is understandable—and commendable: Good education is good policy. 

The money quote comes in the next paragraph:

Despite the imperfections of the current school funding regime, it meets minimum constitutional requirements.

Then the court tells us just how “imperfect” the current regime is:

Texas’s more than five million school children deserve better than serial litigation over an increasingly Daedalean “system.”  They deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid. They deserve a revamped, nonsclerotic system fit for the 21st century.

I think this marks the end of school finance litigation in Texas.  When the Supreme Court unanimously slams the door on “the most far-reaching challenge in Texas history” I think it is telling us: go away and don’t come back.

If I’m right about that, then all of us who care about the success of public education need to double our efforts with the Texas Legislature.  There will be no “transformational, top-to-bottom reform” via litigation. It can only come through the legislature.

The case will be known as Morath v. The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition, decided May 13, 2016.