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Texas’ School Finance System Rests In The Hands Of The State’s High Court

Ryan E. Poppe
Plaintiffs attorneys and the State's Solicitor General presented arguments before justices on the Texas Supreme Court

Attorneys for 600 Texas school districts and the state’s solicitor general on Tuesday made their legal arguments for and against a lower court’s decision that schools are not adequately funded.  Now it is up to the Texas Supreme Court to decide whether the school finance system provides all students the same access to a quality education.

The lawsuit was filed in 2011 after the Legislature cut $5.4 billion dollars from public education while also raising education standards that same year.

A state district judge declared the school finance system unconstitutional.

Texas' Solicitor General Scott Keller on Tuesday argued that the court isn’t responsible for setting the state’s education policy.

“What the plaintiffs came to court today was to say, 'court, we know you don’t have the power to order the legislature to spend more money.' What they said was, ‘shutdown the Texas Public Education System, unless more money is spent,’” Keller said outside the courtroom.

What the court must answer in this instance is whether students are able to meet the new state standards promoting college and career-readiness while using less money.

Former Texas Chief Justice and San Antonio native Wallace Jefferson argued on behalf of the largest urban school districts, including San Antonio’s Northside ISD.

Jefferson explained to the court, “[Students] must graduate from high school prepared for either college or a career.  But the legislature has failed to connect the design of this system that they put in place themselves to this goal, so the school districts cannot meet the expectation.”

To which Chief Justice Nathan Hecht replied, “Is the injunction the remedy?  Shut the school system down?  How’s that going to fix the problem?”

Jefferson pointed to a 2007 school finance lawsuit where the public education system as a whole was put on hold until lawmakers added more money for public education.

Marisa Bono, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is representing San Antonio’s Edgewood ISD.  She told the court that even the slightest decrease in funding could cripple a school with a large population of English-language learners of which she says accounts for two-thirds of the total student population in Texas.

“We’re talking about 3 million low income students and 800,000 ESL students ... the state even acknowledges that these students need additional targeted resources in order to meet state standards,” Bono explained.

While there is no timetable on a ruling from the court, officials with the Texas Supreme Court say they expect a decision no later than December.