Justice Nathan HechtThere is one critical paragraph of Justice Nathan Hecht's majority opinion that does not seem to be getting much attention from the press this evening but could be critical in any future school finance discussions. Hecht issues a pointed warning to lawmakers when he wrote, "Various legislative proposals during the past year to remedy perceived problems with the public education system and its funding would reduce the maximum ad valorem tax rate and allow it to be exceeded for certain purposes. While we express no view on the appropriateness of any of these proposals, we are constrained to caution, as we have before, that a cap to which districts are inexorably forced by educational requirements and economic necessities, as they have been under Senate Bill 7, will in short order violate the prohibition of a state property tax."
The proposals Hecht describe sound an awful lot like HB 2 -- the leadership's school finance bill (which did not finally pass). In that bill, the lawmakers put a lot of new state money into the system and lowered the property tax cap. (The actual amount of the lowered cap varied from $1.05 to $1.25 at various stages of the process). On top of the new, lower cap, lawmakers authorized school districts -- with voter approval -- to levy up to an additional 15 cents of enrichment tax, phased in over several years. There was, however, one catch on which the supreme court did not opine. The bill allowed school districts to go over the cap if two-thirds of district voters approved. To our knowledge, no Texas court has ever faced the issue of how to treat a cap that can be busted by a super-majority.
The core constitutional infirmity cited in the opinion is a lack of "meaningful discretion" on the part of school districts, rather than the property tax rates or the mix of state vs. local financing of education. The paragraph quoted above appeared to be a not-so-subtle warning to the legislature. The key to a constitutional school finance system lies not in the rate, but in the amount of discretion school districts have and whether there are significant variations in the rates charged.
Gov.Rick Perry“The decision issued today by the Texas Supreme Court is an important victory for Texas schoolchildren and property taxpayers. It reaffirms the conclusion that many Texans have already drawn based on the significant achievement gains Texas students have made in recent years: that our system of education funding is fair and meets or exceeds all constitutional requirements.
“And just as importantly, the court ruling validates the demands of Texas taxpayers who are fed up with property tax bills that climb higher and higher with each passing year and who want and deserve substantial and lasting relief. I am also pleased to see that the court agreed with a position I have long advocated, and that is that simply pouring more money into the same system will not alleviate the property tax problem.
“Our entire tax system needs substantial reform to make it fairer, more modern and that will ensure schools have a reliable stream of revenue. That is why I appointed 24 private sector leaders and experts to the Texas Tax Reform Commission led by John Sharp who will develop tax reform recommendations before the legislature next meets.
“I will also continue to work for real classroom reforms, including higher pay for teachers, stronger accountability for failing schools, and a greater emphasis on college readiness so that our children are prepared to succeed in college and access all the opportunities of tomorrow.
“The court also made note of an important point: while the $10 billion in increased funding Texas has provided for education since 1999 has had a positive and measurable impact on our schools, it is possible for the legislature to implement new reforms that will improve student success without necessarily spending additional dollars.
“The June 1 deadline for legislative action is one that I welcome, and I will call lawmakers into special session at an appropriate time before that deadline. I am ready to resolve this issue. So are many legislators and so are the people of Texas.”
House Speaker Tom Craddick on School Finance ruling:
"I accept today's Texas Supreme Court decision and I am committed to finding a fair, equitable, and constitutional alternative to the current school finance system. With six months given to us to address this issue, I look forward to working closely with Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to find a solution that will appropriately answer the Court's ruling."
The following statement was issued by Reps. Jim Dunnam, Garnet Coleman and Pete Gallego:
Rep. Garnett Coleman“The Supreme Court told us today, that we have a job to do. The Governor needs to call us back in to special session today so we can pass a school finance plan that fully funds all our schools and provides real property tax relief for all our families, said House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam. “The all Republican Texas Supreme Court once again confirmed today that the Republican Legislature failed Texas schoolchildren, failed Texas taxpayers, failed Texas schools, failed Texas parents, failed Texas teachers and failed the test of leadership over the last two years,” said Rep. Pete Gallego (D- Alpine).
“After 2 regular sessions and 3 special sessions, the Republican Leadership punted the Legislature’s duty to the Supreme Court.” Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) continued, “in the ruling handed down today, the Supreme Court confirmed that it is the Legislature’s job to meet this challenge head on and develop a long term solution that is worthy of our school children.” The Republican leadership has taken the wrong approach for the last two years. The Supreme Court warned that the public school system is "drifting toward constitutional inadequacy". Simply swapping out a statewide property tax for another tax won’t fully fund our public schools. The Court noted that our system, although barely adequate now, would face additional court challenges in the near future unless the Legislature and the Governor work for serious long term solutions."
Other selected quotes from Public Officials:
Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston):
Sen. Rodney Ellis"Today's decision gives us a starting point on what must be done to fix our school finance system. It is time for the Governor and the Legislature to finally come together and do what is right for our school kids. "Our most important job is to ensure a quality education for all Texas children. Our goal must be to build the best schools in the nation by increasing state funding for public schools, increasing equity, and creating a fairer and more equitable tax structure. A dramatic increase in sales taxes should not be considered.
Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas):
Rep. Dan Branch"The current system needs fixing, and our state business taxes need reform. Local property taxes are too high, many schools need additional resources and the Robin Hood system needs to be fixed. The Legislature must provide a solution to our public school funding crisis and relief for local property taxpayers."
Rep. Joe Nixon (R-Houston):
“I am very grateful for the Texas Supreme Court ruling today, because it confirms what many of us have believed for a long time – that we can, and must, find a fairer way to finance public schools while reducing property taxes,” said Rep. Nixon. “My constituents elected me to solve tough problems like this, and after several very frustrating months I stand ready to complete this mission. With the right leadership, I am confident we will succeed.”
Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin):
Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos“Disheartening as [the ruling] is, it really isn’t surprising that an all Republican court with a majority of its members appointed by Rick Perry would throw a bone to their suburban base by finding the obvious - that property taxes are too high and that the districts have no effective discretion in setting them - while turning a blind eye to the obvious inequalities in the educational opportunities and experiences of Texas children in different parts of the state."
The Dallas County Commissioners Court has thrown its support behind a proposal to build a Regional Commuter Rail System in North Central Texas. The decision came during a session of the Court on Tuesday. The management and funding of the rail system will be determined at a later date. The commuter rail system will serve a 9 county area. According to the Commissioners Court, it will alleviate traffic and pollution problems in the Metroplex. While a funding source has yet to be decided, some suggestions from Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield include a 0.5% increase in the sales tax and a gasoline tax. Commissioner Maurine Dickey expressed the view that while it is too early to determine the exact character of the rail system, it nonetheless should be thought of as part of a regional vision, and not just a county or city project.
Key Quotes from Justice Hecht’s West Orange Cove II majority opinion:
Page numbers refer to the PDF file of the opinion posted to the Supreme Court’s website on Nov. 22, 2005.
( p.11) We now hold, as did the district court, that local ad valorem taxes have become a state property tax in violation of article VIII, section 1-e, as we warned ten years ago they inevitably would, absent a change in course, which has not happened. Although the districts have offered evidence of deficiencies in the public school finance system, we conclude that those deficiencies do not amount to a violation of article VII, section 1. We remain convinced, however, as we were sixteen years ago, that defects in the structure of the public school finance system expose the system to constitutional challenge. Pouring more money into the system may forestall those challenges, but only for a time. They will repeat until the system is overhauled.
(p.47) As the State defendants noted, however, the cost studies and court findings overlook the reality that almost all schools are meeting accreditation standards with current funding.
(p. 53-54) II. A. At the outset, the State defendants challenge the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction on three grounds: that the plaintiff and intervenor school districts lack standing to assert any of their constitutional claims, that their claims under article VII, section 1 are nonjusticiable political questions, and that article VII, section 1 is not self-executing and thus cannot be enforced by court action. With one exception, we have previously rejected all of these contentions, either expressly or implicitly, in this case when it was last before us or in the other cases in which the constitutionality of the public school finance system has been at issue. In none of our prior cases has a school district’s standing to challenge the public school finance system under article VII, section 1 been challenged, and we have not specifically addressed that issue.
To the extent we have already spoken to these issues, the State defendants urge us to reconsider. Our prior decisions have not ended litigation over school finance once and for all, and the State defendants argue that this is because the courts cannot give sufficiently certain meaning to the constitutional standards. Each new case, they argue, threatens to drag the courts inescapably into a morass of policy-making where they do not belong and from which they will not be able to extricate themselves, endlessly second-guessing the detailed structures of public education. We think our prior opinions on these matters are clear enough and remain correct
(p. 63) The State defendants do not contest that individuals would have standing to raise the claims in this case. The interests of individual taxpayers in suitable, adequate, efficient public education and in avoiding a state property tax might well diverge from those of their school districts. But individuals’ standing to assert these constitutional claims does not deprive school districts of standing to assert the same claims. Accordingly, we conclude that the plaintiff and intervenor school districts have standing to assert the claims made in this case.
(p. 78-79) In essence, we refused to find a constitutional violation when the challenged aspect of the system was not arbitrary. This comports with what we said in 1931 in Mumme v. Marrs:
The purpose of [article VII, section 1] as written was not only to recognize the inherent power in the Legislature to establish an educational system for the state, but also to make it the mandatory duty of that department to do so. . . . The Legislature alone is to judge what means are necessary and appropriate for a purpose which the Constitution makes legitimate. The legislative determination of the methods, restrictions, and regulations is final, except when so arbitrary as to be violative of the constitutional rights of the citizen.
(p. 81) It would be arbitrary, for example, for the Legislature to define the goals for accomplishing the constitutionally required general diffusion of knowledge, and then to provide insufficient means for achieving those goals. If the Legislature’s choices are informed by guiding rules and principles properly related to public education — that is, if the choices are not arbitrary — then the system does not violate the constitutional provision.
(p. 87) The public education system need not operate perfectly; it is adequate if districts are reasonably able to provide their students the access and opportunity the district court described.
(p. 91-92) Having carefully reviewed the evidence and the district court’s findings, we cannot conclude that the Legislature has acted arbitrarily in structuring and funding the public education system so that school districts are not reasonably able to afford all students the access to education and the educational opportunity to accomplish a general diffusion of knowledge.
We recognize that the standard of arbitrariness we have applied is very deferential to the Legislature, but as we have explained, we believe that standard is what the Constitution requires. Nevertheless, the standard can be violated. There is substantial evidence, which again the district court credited, that the public education system has reached the point where continued improvement will not be possible absent significant change, whether that change take the form of increased funding, improved efficiencies, or better methods of education.
(p. 97) There is much evidence that many districts’ facilities are inadequate, but it is undisputed that some 25% of the districts levy no I&S taxes. The State defendants argue that disparities among districts in available facilities are not proof of inefficiency absent evidence that the districts’ needs are similar. They contend that facilities needs vary widely depending on the size and location of schools, construction expenses, and other variables. We agree that such evidence is necessary and lacking. The State defendants also argue that to prove constitutional inefficiency the intervenors must offer evidence of an inability to provide for a general diffusion of knowledge without additional facilities, and that they have failed to do so. Again, we agree. Efficiency requires only substantially equal access to revenue for facilities necessary for an adequate system … The Legislature may well find many ways of improving the efficiency and adequacy of public education — ways not urged by the parties to this case — that do not involve increased funding.
(p. 109) The State also controls the expenditure of more than $1 billion in local tax revenues recaptured from 134 districts, which educate 12.3% of the students, requiring that they be effectively redistributed to the other districts. The number of districts and amount of revenue subject to recapture have almost tripled since 1994. The State’s control of this local revenue is a significant factor in considering whether local taxes have become a state property tax.
(p.111) Although the statute does not promise any particular level of supplemental funding, local supplementation is made a core component of the system structure, necessitated by the basic philosophy of the virtue of local control. The State cannot provide for local supplementation, pressure most of the districts by increasing accreditation standards in an environment of increasing costs to tax at maximum rates in order to afford any supplementation at all, and then argue that it is not controlling local tax rates.
(p. 111-112) Accordingly, we conclude that the public school finance system violates article VIII, section 1-e of the Texas Constitution. Various legislative proposals during the past year to remedy perceived problems with the public education system and its funding would reduce the maximum ad valorem tax rate and allow it to be exceeded for certain purposes. While we express no view on the appropriateness of any of these proposals, we are constrained to caution, as we have before, that a cap to which districts are inexorably forced by educational requirements and economic necessities, as they have been under Senate Bill 7, will in short order violate the prohibition of a state property tax.
(p. 114) The Constitution does not require a particular solution. We leave such matters to the discretion of the Legislature. To end the constitutional violation, we agree with the district court that the use of the current system must be enjoined. The district court delayed the effect of its injunction until October 1, 2005, to allow the Legislature time to respond. Since the injunction issued, the Legislature has undertaken to respond in a regular session and two special sessions. Its inability to do so appears to be due not to any lack of expertise in the issues but to the absence of agreement. At this point in time, it is unlikely that material changes could be made in the public education system that would affect the current school year. School districts will next begin to prepare budgets and set tax rates in the summer of 2006. To allow the State ample time to fully consider structural changes in the public education system, and to allow the system time to adjust to those changes, we postpone the effective date of the district court’s injunction to June 1, 2006.
Confidence, happiness and enthusiasm are contagious .... and so is the lack of them. Act "as if" you are confident, happy and enthusiastic and you will become confident, happy, enthusiastic, healthier and successful!
Vinny Minchillo takes note of GM's 30,000 job cuts and suggests it should be to on one's surprise. He takes note that Toyota is now 1 percentage point behind GM in US sales. He has some advise for GM: It's the product stupid.
Oh my... another proclamation from the hardest working man in soul business...our newest Pope, saying that candidates for the seminary must be free of gay tendencies for three years... STOP!...Alright...O.K...we're getting to the point now where we've run the gamut of ridiculousness where the whole gay priest thing is concerned.
As a cradle Catholic who's having a whole lot of trouble with this institution lately, I'm still trying to figure out why my church needs to go from starting brush fire after brush fire to total self-immolation with the flick of a...proclamation. Not that sexually abusing children is a brush fire but there's been no evidence that this is linked at all to homosexuality.
If homosexuality is indeed against church law (especially for priests) then whoever chooses to break that law already has and will continue to do so until well, hell freezes over. But it's this three year thing that has me totally undone. Who's keeping track of this three year fast?...Two years, nine months....Wait! You've got three more months to go!...Please...
Say a kid wants to enter the seminary out of high school. I'm guessing he's about seventeen or eighteen years old. Well, according to the new "proclamation", he should not have acted on a gay tendency since he was fourteen or fifteen...Wow!... At that age I was barely able to act out any tendency worse than overeating.
Say a young man of twenty four or twenty five wants to enter the seminary. He's gay and has a vocation to the priesthood. Whether he admits or not to having sexual relations in a given period of time isn't going to stop him from seeking priesthood today any more than it would have a year ago. I mean this is just common sense.
Is this spiral of stupidity meant to confuse and confound the many of us that yearn for the Church to come up with some tangible answers to it's problems...or something else? Whatever's going on, please give us something...anything that makes sense.
William F. Buckley Jr.Maybe we could just, you know, take a break from the Murtha mess and the rivalries that underlie it -- large as they are -- and note a notable birthday, that of William F. Buckley, Jr. which date occurs this Thanskgiving.
Appropriately enough. As our brother becomes an octogenarian, some of us rosy-cheeked sexagenarians would offer thanks for the blessing of such a life and career as Bill Buckley’s.
The most flagrant offense likely to be charged to Bill Buckley, on his 80th, is that of helping generate a conservatism capable of entering into the kinds of disputes that now rage over Iraq, the Supreme Court, federal spending, federal power, etc.
. Life would unquestionably be quieter, absent our brother Bill. Also more fraught with peril and/or pure tedium. Without Buckley, without his wit and grace and brains, the dominant liberalism of post -World War II America might have washed all dissent out to sea. There would have been no conservative comeback; no Goldwater, no Reagan. The present menace to life and limb would be the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile, instead of the jihadist suicide bomb. Our taxes would certainly be steeper, our lives more bureaucratized, our hands less free to improvise and invent.
That is because the essence of conservatism, as Bill Buckley understood and began advertising it, half a century ago, was Christian freedom as shaped by tradition. It was a proposition at odds with all the ends of human manipulation.
Manipulation, by those who understood themselves to be wise and generous at heart, was the style of the times: the product mostly of Depression times and vain, boastful science. Buckley and fellow believers in the higher freedom began as a scattered lot. Gradually they came together under his leadership and inspiration, to preach the gospel of human freedom as mediated by the spirit of Christianity.
Buckley founded National Review in 1955. In 1960, a then-18-year-old Texan with whom I am on intimate terms discovered the publication and its learned, impassioned writers; swooned dead away with passion; subscribed; read every issue at a single sitting.
National Review wasn’t just a journal -- a mass cogitation. It was an ongoing, often hilarious, argument with society’s most facile assumptions. Out in front of its readership NR shoved the expostulating, bickering, needling, wise-cracking likes of Willmoore Kendall, Russell Kirk, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers, and the editor himself, William F. Buckley, Jr.
Some of those once-esteemed names occasion head-scratching in modern conservative purlieus. Well, they didn’t always. They inspired and invigorated. To be in those days young -- and conservative -- under such auspices and influences was very heaven. It seemed there was something after all to work for, something to fight for.
Life wasn’t a square, linoleum-floored, thermostatically controlled room with a single light bulb. It was a banqueting hall - a place, as NR showed us, for Stradivariuses, Stratocasters, or both at the same time, playing merry accompaniment for each other. It grooved. I believe that might be it: National Review grooved, after the manner of all enterprises organized around the purposes of human freedom. In the 21st century many have come to think of conservatism as a political blunt instrument: something for beating liberals over the head with on Fox News. And the variety of conservatives -- bewildering! Free-marketers, pro-lifers, "intelligent designers," "strict constructionists," Reaganites, even "W." fans! Something for everybody! Come one come all!
Well, don’t you see, that’s why they did come and still do -- because a creed of freedom lived out in gratitude to the God whose service is perfect freedom was about the richness of all life. You could speak with a modified prep school accent, like Bill Buckley; or with a Texas twang; or in a language with no resemblance to English. Still, you were conservative. And probably are now -- that is, if you prize the nobly ordered freedom depicted for so long, so ably, so engagingly by Bill Buckley.
For whose sterling gifts, O Lord, make us truly thankful.
The Texas Legislature has now been given another deadline – June 1, 2006 -- to come up with a constitutional funding system for the state’s public schools. As expected, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the current system of funding schools from local property taxes is unconstitutional.
Yet, while the Court ordered an overhaul of the tax system, it did not rule that lawmakers must order vast new spending for public education. Rather, it found not enough evidence that facilities in poor districts are underfunded by the current system that provides about $33 billion a year for public schools.
Simply put, the court ruled that the state’s control of local taxation, which requires rich districts to contribute money to poor districts, amounts to a state property tax. This is true because the current school property tax rate cap of $1.50 per $100 valuation has been reached in too many districts.
The court ruling notes that 48 percent of Texas districts, with 59 percent of the students, are taxing at the cap, and 67 percent of the districts, with 81 percent of the students, are taxing at or above $1.45.
Writing the 7-1 majority opinion, Justice Nathan Hecht notes: “The current situation has become virtually indistinguishable from one in which the State simply set an ad valorem tax rate of $1.50 and redistributed the revenue to the districts.”
He also writes:
“The tax rate cap that makes the public education funding system a state property tax is also intended to keep the system efficient. The two roles of the cap are inseparable. To remove the cap so as to allow districts meaningful discretion in setting tax rates at higher levels would be to increase the revenue disparity among the property-rich and the property-poor districts, creating the financial inefficiency that the cap is intended to prevent…The constitutional violation cannot be corrected without raising the cap on local tax rates or changing the system.”
It is clear that the system must be changed, and that is what John Sharp’s tax restructuring commission is looking into. The former comptroller, appointed to head the commission by Gov. Rick Perry, has said that businesses are willing to pay more for public schools in order to reduce the reliance on the property tax – if the system is fair. The hope is that his commission can recommend a restructured system that the Legislature can agree on.
Lawmakers couldn’t agree in the regular session earlier this year, nor in two special sessions called by Gov. Perry. But the court-imposed deadline of June 1 puts the pressure on the Legislature to unite behind a new system in time for districts to plan for the 2006-2007 school year.
Justice Hecht, in the majority opinion, recalls language of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the San Antonio ISD v. Rodriguez case, which was the first case to challenge the constitutionality of the public school finance system in Texas more than 30 years ago:
“The need is apparent for reform in tax systems which may well have relied too long and too heavily on the local property tax. And certainly innovative thinking as to public education, its methods, and its funding is necessary to assure both a higher level of quality and greater uniformity of opportunity. These matters merit the continued attention of the scholars who already have contributed much by their challenges. But the ultimate solutions must come from the lawmakers and from the democratic pressures of those who elect them.”