Supreme Court Justice, Nathan HechtIt’s the one public policy problem the legislature would not solve – the Robin Hood system of public school finance. No one could broker consensus among lawmakers on this issue. Not George W. Bush. Not Rick Perry. Not Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Not Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Not countless special committees. Not the press. And certainly not the educator lobby.
Only a Texas Supreme Court order and an impending school shutdown could force the legislature to act.
That’s why Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht deserves Man of the Year honors. He wrote the opinion that will force the legislature to redo school finance.
Equally important, however, is how Hecht came to the conclusion the school finance system did not pass constitutional muster. The educator lobby wanted the court to order the legislature to fork over billions of tax dollars ($11 billion or so) to public school bureaucrats. It’s a legal concept often called "adequacy."
But in Hecht’s ruling he cautioned "While the end-product of public education is related to the resources available for its use, the relationship is neither simple nor direct; public education can and often does improve with greater resources, just as it struggles when resources are withheld, but more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students." He ordered the legislature to fix a broken system by declaring Robin Hood a statewide property tax but did not hand a blank check to school districts in the process.
The Texas Supreme Court has experienced substantial turnover in the past few years. Hecht is now the court’s longest-serving member, first elected in 1988. In his time on the bench, he has established himself as a voice for conservative values and judicial restraint. Because of Hecht’s tenure and record, he speaks with degree of stature that few Texas jurists can match.
Texas government in 2005 was characterized by inaction. Hecht took action, making him the obvious choice for Man of the Year.