|Texas Supreme Court Rules Current Public
School Funding System Unconstitutional
On Tuesday, November
22, the Texas Supreme Court released it much anticipated ruling on the
case regarding Public School Funding. Basically, the court upheld Judge
Dietz’s ruling that the current method of funding our schools is
unconstitutional and must be replaced by June 1, 2006. However, the Supreme
Court overruled the original opinion that dealt with the level or amount
of adequate funding.
According to the ruling, Texas school districts illegally tax property
owners to pay for public education, and the state must find a new way
to fund schools by June 1 or classrooms will remain closed in the fall.
Texas' highest civil court ruled that the property taxes for schools have
become an unconstitutional statewide property tax and charged lawmakers
with repairing the $30 billion funding system. State funding would be
stopped if the deadline isn't met.
The nine-member Republican panel agreed 7-1 with one of three arguments
in a lawsuit brought against the state by hundreds of school districts,
but found the system meets constitutional requirements for "adequate
education" and equitable facilities funding. Justice Scott Brister
dissented and Justice Don Willett did not participate.
June 1 is an extension of an earlier court deadline set in the long-running
case, and one lawmaker said it this one is much more serious.
"This time the Supreme Court has ruled. There is no back door,"
said Texas Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, a member of the House Public Education
Committee. "This deadline is a real, hard, firm deadline. At that
point, you can't finance schools the same way, you have to make the system
constitutional, otherwise you run the risk of not being able to open schools
The court declined to offer its own solution, pushing the issue back
Republican Gov. Rick Perry praised the ruling and said he plans to call
lawmakers back to Austin to take up the issue in a special legislative
session "at an appropriate time before that deadline."
The court has been considering the case for months on appeal from a district
court in Austin. Property-rich and poor districts sued, claiming the method
for funding education did not meet requirements set in the state constitution.
State District Judge John Dietz in September 2004 agreed. He ordered
that the three problems get repaired or the state would have to halt funding
for schools Oct. 1. That deadline was suspended pending the high court
The state appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that changes to the
system should be made by the Legislature, not the courts.
The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the system
is unconstitutional because so many school districts are forced to tax
property owners at the maximum limit of $1.50 per $100 in property value.
That amounts to a statewide property tax because districts don't have
room to set their own rates, the high court ruled.
Districts argued that to fund all state and federal education mandates
-- such as the 22-student per class limit and minimum teacher salaries
-- they must tax at the legal limit. The property tax cap, they said,
had become both a minimum and a maximum rate.
Perry has appointed former comptroller John Sharp, a Democrat and former
political rival, to head a commission that will recommend how to restructure
the tax system that pays for schools. It met for the first time Monday.
The Governor has not made an announcement on when he will call the legislature
back to Austin to deal with this matter, but many political handicappers
are predicting that it will be in April of 2006. It is unclear at this
point what will be allowed for consideration by the legislature and whether
or not the Texas racing industry will have an opportunity to present its