The Texas Supreme Court agreed Friday that Texas’ system of public education needs wholesale improvements. Unfortunately, the nine justices stopped well short of doing anything about it themselves.
In refusing to intervene, they’ve placed an enormous responsibility to fix our system of school finance on the shoulders of state lawmakers, the same lawmakers who have refused for decades to do what is needed. As a result, Texas’ 5 million public school children will be the ones who most directly bear the costs of the high court’s refusal to fix a system that it concedes requires “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms.”
We deeply resent that the court has set the bar so extraordinarily low for what the Texas Constitution requires of state officials when it comes to public education.
The ruling, we fear, all but shuts the courthouse door on future legal challenges over the adequacy of public schools. That’s frightening for all who remember that it has been court challenges over the past 30 years that have steadily pushed the Texas Legislature to make what improvements that have been made.
We’re especially disappointed that in concluding that the current system of school finance is bad — but not bad enough to violate the constitution — the justices discarded evidence of widely disparate funding levels. They concluded that “inputs” like per-pupil spending, students’ access to facilities or other external factors have no legal meaning. Instead, the decision relied heavily on “outputs” like test scores and graduation rates to show that the system as a whole is improving. Never mind that those graduation rates are in dispute.
Yes, some districts spend more than others — so what? the court seemed to be saying. That does not prove that the system as a whole violates the Constitution.
That’s a kind of indifference that is tough to swallow.
And if those outputs — graduation rates or test scores, for example — are wildly different for poor students than they are for wealthy ones? Or for native English speakers and those just learning English?
The Constitution is no help there, either.
The justices ruled that the state Constitution guarantees only an adequate overall system of education, not one that helps remove obstacles for what the court calls subgroups. After all, many of those students arrive at school carrying burdens that are beyond the responsibility of their teachers. Why should a public education system that failed to address those weaknesses be deemed inadequate?
Why? Because the Constitution guarantees more than an education system that does the basics. It should also guarantee equal opportunity, and require that the lawmakers craft a system that works for every student in this state, rich or poor.
The justices concluded that they could not do what they know Texas students need. Instead, they refused to second-guess the Legislature and were reduced instead to pleading with lawmakers to fix a system they recognize is broken.
We’d feel less darkly about the prospects for such a fix if those legislators had not so frequently failed to find the courage to spend what is necessary to give all Texas students a chance at a public education that is more than adequate.
Read the full Supreme Court document below
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