by ED STERLING
Texas’ current school finance system fails to provide substantially equal access to revenues needed to provide “a general diffusion of knowledge” in accordance with the state constitution, a Travis County state district court declared on Feb. 4.
Judge John K. Dietz ruled in the lawsuit brought by nearly 700 school districts (as Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education), three individual school districts, a group of intervenors and a charter school coalition. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the commissioner of education, the state comptroller of public accounts and the state board of education.
Major among complaints against the officials was inadequate state funding to augment local property tax levies. School districts forced to tax at the cap of $1.17 on the $100 valuation, in essence, have been asked to do too much with too little, therefore losing “meaningful discretion” in setting their tax rates, Dietz wrote.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reacted, saying he expects an immediate appeal of the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.
Last session of the Texas Legislature, in 2011, lawmakers voted to cut education funding by about $5.5 billion, part of an across-the-board effort to reduce state agency spending to compensate for a budget shortfall then calculated to be between $10 billion and $24 billion. Today, however, the current estimate by the comptroller indicates a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus. Educators hope to recoup billions in funding lost to those cuts made two years ago.
Complaints about school funding formulas repeatedly have been addressed in high-profile cases by state courts since the mid-1980s. Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education’s published goal “is not asking the court to legislate a solution to this problem, but rather to force the Legislature to do their job in creating a constitutional public school system.”
Cancer agency questioned
Texas in November 2007 responded to a call by the governor to create an entity that would focus on finding cures and preventive measures for cancer. It was then that voters approved a constitutional amendment to establish a state agency, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, and allowed the issuance of $3 billion in general obligation bonds over 10 years to fund it.
Last year, questions arose over the cancer agency’s management and where the money was going. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus on Dec. 19 sent a letter to the agency, calling for it to address “concerns that have been raised about its processes and operations before any future grants are awarded.”
Cancer agency officials testified in a daylong hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 6, answering questions about grant management, property leases, executive salaries, and more.
Perry takes California trip
Gov. Perry traveled to San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Orange County on a three-day mission to meet with high tech, biotechnology, financial, insurance and film industry leaders.
In a pre-trip “California regulates … Texas innovates” marketing blitz, Perry invited California businesses to relocate in the Lone Star State.
Perry’s office said TexasOne, an economic development corporation based in Austin, is paying for the trip and no tax dollars would be used for the governor’s travel or accommodations.
Accreditation must wait
Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams announced Feb. 7 the Texas Education Agency will not assign its normal annual accreditation statuses to the more than 1,200 independent school districts and charter schools for the 2012-2013 school year.
“Because student performance is a key indicator in the state accreditation system, and because that data is not available due to the transition (to the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) accountability system), the Agency will suspend the assignment of accreditation statuses until the 2013-2014 school year,” Williams said.
Senate seat vote is set
Gov. Perry by proclamation on Feb. 8 set Saturday, March 2 – Texas Independence Day – as the special runoff election date for the Texas Senate Dist. 6 seat held by the Hon. Mario Gallegos Jr., who died Oct. 16.
Gallegos, though deceased, still won 71 percent of the vote to Republican challenger R.W. Bray’s 29 percent in the Nov. 6 general election.
Included among eight candidates in the race to serve out the term ending in 2016 are Bray and standing state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.
Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association and follows the Legislature for the association.