An Austin radio station was reporting over the weekend that some school districts, unhappy over the looming state cuts to public education funding, are considering filing another school finance lawsuit against the state. There is nothing particularly newsworthy about the story because school districts have been talking about another lawsuit for many months now.
And, talk of a lawsuit alone is not going to prompt this Legislature to do what’s right because lawmakers know that suits of this magnitude take years to be resolved.
The school finance system has been the subject of several lawsuits brought at various times over the past 30plus years by school districts, parents or both. Some, such as the suit that resulted in the landmark Texas Supreme Court order in Edgewood v. Kirby in 1986, have produced more equity in school funding.
The last lawsuit brought by school districts who claimed that a growing reliance on local property taxes for school funding amounted to an unconstitutional statewide property tax – backfired.
The courts agreed with the districts and ordered the Legislature to change the system, resulting in the 2006 school finance law. But instead of putting more state funding into public education, the governor and the Legislature tightened the squeeze on the public schools. They ordered deep cuts in school property taxes without fully paying for them and put strict limits on future property tax increases. The results are a $10 billion structural deficit in the public education budget, severe school financial problems and districts once again threatening to sue.
Another school finance suit is inevitable, either before or, mostly likely, after the session ends.