Greg Abbott had another bad day in court on Thursday. He has a lot of those. In June, a Federal Court knocked him down to size in a dispute about attorney fees and courts costs in Abbott’s failed attempt to salvage gerrymandering and vote suppression.
This time, an Austin judge dealt a devastating blow to Greg Abbott’s campaign against public education. In District court Judge John Dietz’s 404 page ruling, he concludes that the Lone Star state’s school financing system is unconstitutional, unfair and insufficient. The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition et al challenged a state policy that “improperly controls local property taxation” Moreover, “the evidence clearly establishes that local districts do not have meaningful discretion in the levy, assessment and disbursement of property taxes; therefore the Texas school financing system imposes an unconstitutional state property tax.”
Oh my goodness! This ruling blew the lid off the Republican Party’s general claim that it believes in local power. In reality, the ruling says that the state legislature’s method of financing education was the sort of top down scheme that Republicans say they oppose. It was unconstitutional because it was a state level property tax. The court also recognized the scheme is unfair and it doesn’t provide the funds needed to finance education.
This case started because the state legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011. The result was overcrowded classrooms, closed schools and unemployed teachers.
This unconstitutional system with all its warts is the one that Greg Abbott believes in. He was willing to go to war with 600 school districts and spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars to defend it. He is expected to spend even more tax dollars to defend it on appeal.
The fact is Greg Abbot loves this system because he can use it to starve public education out of existence.
He tried to force Judge Dietz off the case, perhaps because Dietz understood that access to education is important to reducing crime and dependence on public assistance because it means the population has the skills needed to earn a decent living.
We realize that others provided for us when we were children. We realize that children are without means to secure their education. Just as others provided for us when we were in school, now is the time when we provide for others.
While delighted that the ruling recognizes the short changing of education dollars in districts, advocates for the private, religion based charter schools are disappointed the judge the rejected their argument in the quest for more public dollars. Judge Dietz suggested the best place for Charter Schools to seek more money is in the legislature.
The evidence was plain during trial: charter school students receive $1,000 less than district students on average each year. This disparity creates constitutional harm that Judge Dietz failed to recognize despite the use of the state’s own data to prove this point.
So says David Dunn, the executive director of the charter school organization. However, Dunn did praise the judge for finding that school districts were underfunded.
Greg Abbot loves this system because Republicans in the state legislature can get away with draconian cuts to education without paying the political consequences. That honor goes to the local school boards who have to decide if they should close schools or fire teachers because of the way the unconstitutional law is structured.
The economic reality of Texas’ education system was summarized in Lone Star Project Director, Matt Angle’s reaction to the ruling:
The term “deadbeat” is used to describe adults who don’t fulfill their obligation to kids. Greg Abbott’s failure to fulfill his responsibility to help provide a good public education to Texas kids makes him the state’s biggest deadbeat.
It’s been clear for a long time that real insight into Greg Abbott’s views and principles is gained only at the courthouse. Today’s decision that the Texas school financing system is unconstitutional is a clear judgment on the false priorities and values of Greg Abbott and throws a harsh light on his contempt for our public schools.
This ruling gives Texans a chance to wake up from the slumber to support Wendy Davis who, like the judge in this case, recognizes the value and need for a public and accessible education system.