As a former Texas Supreme Court justice and state attorney general, Greg Abbott was an influential advocate of “tort reform,” meaning he worked to prevent aggrieved consumers and other everyday Texans from having their day in court. Now, as governor, he also wants to shut the courthouse door to school districts seeking more funding for educators and students.
On the eve of a Texas Supreme Court hearing of the latest school finance lawsuit, Abbott is quoted today in The Dallas Morning News as saying, in effect, that courts don’t have any business deciding educational policy.
I wonder if he also believes that courts don’t have any business deciding critical issues like voting rights or Texans’ right to clean air and clear water, that those issues also should be left simply to the will of a Legislature and executive branch of government now controlled by a politically charged, backward-thinking ideology. Maybe he does.
Here is what Abbott said: “Both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of responsible policymaking, the courts are not the appropriate forum for making decisions about statewide education policy. It’s time to stop fighting about school finance and start fixing our schools.”
In truth, Abbott and the legislative majority have refused to try to fix our schools. They had a great opportunity last spring to give Texas educators and students an adequate and constitutional funding system – without raising anyone’s taxes. Instead, they chose to spend several billion dollars on tax cuts and leave billions of additional taxpayer dollars in the bank, while per-student funding in Texas remains among the lowest (38th) in the country, more than $2,000 below the national average. Some school districts are still spending less per student than they did five years ago, before the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public education.
Educational spending in Texas would be even lower were it not for a history of court intervention into one of the Legislature’s most critical – and most neglected – functions.
In the latest lawsuit, brought against the state by about 600 school districts, a state district judge ruled months ago that the funding system is inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional. Now, Abbott is hoping the Texas Supreme Court will make the ruling go away.