Many are aware that the legislature cut $5.4 billion from the school system in 2011. This was ironic because that year the state ended up with a surplus much greater than that, not to mention the money in the rainy day fund.
600 school systems filed a lawsuit. In 2013 the legislature restored $3.4 billion of the $5.4 it had cut.
In February 2013 Judge Dietz ruled from the bench that the Texas school finance system is unconstitutional. Frankly, it’s inequitable and underfunded. According to former school superintendent Ray Freeman of the Equity Center, the system is neither equitable nor efficient. The disparity between poor school systems and wealthy school systems is palpable.
In 2014 attorney General Greg Abbott filed to have Judge Dietz recused and filed an appeal. Dietz refused to step down. Visiting Judge David Peoples was assigned to rule on the motion. Peoples dismissed the motion.
Judge Dietz handed down his decision, ruling that the system was not “suitable,” a word that appears in the constitution. It’s not suitable because there’s not enough money in it. It distributes to districts inequitably. It imposes a de facto state property tax. The decision was not issued until after the 2013 legislative session.
Long story short, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments are expected to occur this summer or fall (2015). There could be a decision by the end of the year. If the district court’s decision is upheld, the SupremeCourt will give the legislature a timeline to comply.
The Texas Legislature meets every other year for 140 days. Each session convenes on the second Tuesday in January during odd-numbered years. The 84th Legislative Session begins on January 13, 2015, and ends on June 1, 2015.
Incidentally, Judge Dietz is a Lutheran. He is now retired, and free to comment on the case.
Read the 21-page decision HERE.
Read the longer Findings doc HERE.
Read Judge Dietz’ comments HERE.