The Commerce Journal

February 18, 2013

Will legislature move forward on school equity issue?

Commerce Independent School District

COMMERCE — The first phase of the School Finance Lawsuit wrapped up last Monday and we will now wait to see which court it will go to on appeal.  Here are a few basic facts about the reasons for the lawsuit that five different plaintiff groups, along with one intervener group, felt compelled to file against the Texas Education Agency.

Whether you live in a property wealthy school district or a property -poor school district, one thing everybody can agree on is that the way the state funds public schools needs to change. The Honorable John Dietz’s ruling in the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition et al. vs. Michael Williams, Texas Education Agency, et al. school finance case was issued in the following order.

The Texas school finance system is:

1. Inequitable and inefficient

2. Inadequate and unsuitable

3. Statewide de facto property tax

You have heard me speak on many occasions about the inequity in our public school educational finance system. Judge Dietz’s ruling confirms this argument.

However, it is almost assured that Texas’ Attorney General, Greg Abbott, will appeal this ruling. The question is to which court? Will it go to the appellate court or straight to the state Supreme Court? If it goes to the appellate court, this could stretch out the final decision past the next gubernatorial election. Either way, it will probably be a year before we get to a final decision.

What does this mean while we are waiting? It means we will go on with business as usual. However, the state legislature has to decide whether to move forward before there is a final decision. The problem is that the legislature must figure out how to pay for the deficit they have from the last session.  This means another year of inequity in funding and our students having the same expectations with less state money than almost three-fourths of the schools in the state.

Speaker Joe Straus said that the House plans to move forward on several aspects of school finance this session.

“The Speaker believes that the House should first fulfill its current obligations by paying $1.75 billion to move a Foundation School Program payment back into the current biennium,” Straus spokesman Jason Embry said. “Once that obligation is met, he believes the Appropriations Committee should consider strategic increases in education funding beyond the $2.2 billion increase in the introduced budget to cover the cost of enrollment growth. The House is also moving forward with other legislation to improve education by reforming the state accountability system and giving students more options to better prepare for higher education and the workforce.”

In regard to testing and accountability, that will be discussed later. Until then, please let our State Representative Dan Flynn and State Senator Bob Deuell hear from you. I know they want to hear your concerns.

Until next week: Go Tigers!

Cooper serves as superintendant of Commerce Independent School District.