Friday, October 07, 2005

School Finance Ruling Questions

Great editorial on the state of the school finance ruling from the Star-Telegram, Giving directions. It brings up some great questions about what happens when a ruling comes down. One thing it reminded me of was that Judge John Dietz's ruling had two parts. The first part was that the way our schools are funded is a problem and the second part was that are schools are underfunded. As the editorial states it is the second part that could cause the most problems:
Many experts on both sides of the debate expect the court to agree with Dietz on the first issue -- the unconstitutional state property tax. Even if that's all the court does, it means that the Legislature will have to address school finance again very soon -- and do much better than its oft-repeated spectacular failures of the past two years.

But the real nail-biting tension in waiting for the court's decision comes from the other issue in the Dietz ruling: Will Texas be ordered to devote more money to public schools?

The state's more conservative lawmakers have shown that they can devise ways to give school districts what at least looks like more flexibility in spending without really giving them much more money. But if the Supreme Court agrees with Dietz on the issue of adequate funding, the Capitol's foundation will shake. Legislators would be forced to find that money, even if it means raising taxes.
Remember everything that was tried over the course of 2005 added no new money. In fact most of the Republicans believed that the schools already had sufficient money. In other words if this part is upheld in will open a whole new can of worms. But the editorial brings up more good points. How long will the state get to fix the problem?
The smart bet here is: until Sept. 1, 2006. After all, if a suit that was argued in mid-2004 has pointed out something that is unconstitutional, it means that schools must have already operated under those unconstitutional conditions during at least three academic years: 2003-04, 2004-05 and the current 2005-06 year. How could the court allow that condition to continue into another academic year?
Timing is everything. If this has to be fixed before the next regular session but a special session can't occur until after primaries then there will be a bunch of lame duck legislators as possible swing votes making school finance and tax law that they will never be held accountable for. Where does the Sharp task force fit into all of this? You see there are many POLITICAL considerations to take into account when this ruling comes down. The editorial finishes with a deserved shot at the Lege:
Many people who follow the school finance debate hope that the Supreme Court's ruling will give clear direction on how the issue should be settled.

But others know that where the Texas Legislature is concerned, clear direction is rare.


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