Good News and Bad News on School Finance in Texas

The long-awaited decision from the Texas Supreme Court in the school finance case, Morath v. Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition, was issued on May 13, 2016. (The case was argued over eight months earlier.) The court’s jargon-laden 100-page (!) decision can be summarized with this sentence: “Despite the imperfections of the current school funding regime, it meets minimum constitutional requirements.”

The unanimous decision, written by Justice Don Willett, is being described by headline writers as a “win” for the state, but in reality it is a mixed bag. The good news is that the state supreme court emphatically (and thoroughly) rejected the one-sided findings of Travis County district judge John Dietz, overturning his activist ruling in favor of more than 600 Texas school districts who sued the state seeking greater funding. Thus, Morath brings to an end a marathon, politically-inspired lawsuit begun nearly five years ago in the wake of the Legislature’s 2011 budget cuts. The months-long trial presided over by the now-retired Dietz, generating a transcript exceeding 200,000 pages, proved to be a complete and utter waste of time. So the Morath decision represents a definite (and welcome) setback for the lucrative cottage industry of school finance litigation.

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