AUSTIN - Texas’ highest court upheld the state’s public funding system as constitutional on Friday, opining that it’s not the judiciary’s role to “second-guess whether our system is optimal.”
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement calling the ruling “a victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution.”
“The Supreme Court's decision ends years of wasteful litigation by correctly recognizing that courts do not have the authority to micromanage the state's school finance system,” Abbott said. “I am grateful for the excellent work of the State's lawyers at the Attorney General's Office, without whom this landmark ruling could not have been achieved."
Since the late 1980s, the Texas Supreme Court has been called upon seven times to assess the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.
In the case of Morath et al v the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition et al, more than half of the state’s school districts brought the most far-reaching funding challenge in Texas history, court records show.
“The Framers of our Texas Constitution placed the responsibility for education policymaking squarely with the Legislature,” states the high court’s May 13 opinion.
“Those decisions are not immune from judicial review. Lawmakers decide if laws pass, and judges decide if those laws pass muster. But our lenient standard of review in this policy-laden area counsels modesty. The judicial role is not to second-guess whether our system is optimal, but whether it is constitutional.
“Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements. Accordingly, we decline to usurp legislative authority by issuing reform diktats from on high, supplanting lawmakers’ policy wisdom with our own.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement calling the ruling “historic and a “major victory for the people of Texas, who have faced an endless parade of lawsuits following any attempt to finance schools in the state.”
“We have said all along that school financing must be debated and shaped by the Texas Legislature, not through decades’ worth of ongoing litigation in the court system, and I’m pleased the court unanimously agrees,” Paxton said. “I’m also grateful for the hard work of my legal team, whose dedication, knowledge and talent helped earn Texas this much-needed victory.”
However, not everyone was as pleased as Abbott and Paxton.
In a statement, Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, accused the court of abandoning “its duty to defend the interests of Texas' 5.3 million public school students, walking away from its responsibility to confront our broken school finance system.”
“The deeply conservative court has held that the state system of school funding meets minimum constitutional requirements, but facts are stubborn things, and the facts remain that Texas schools are underfunded, inequitably funded, and force an inordinate share of the cost of education onto local school districts and their taxpayers, while the state fails to do its full part,” Malfaro said.
“The court hides behind a facile argument of judicial restraint. Past courts have seen the wide variation in access to funding between school districts as a violation of the constitutional requirement that the state support an efficient system of public schools.”
Case No. 14-0776