Education News

What’s Next in the Legal Battle Over Texas School Finance

Former lawmaker Scott Hochberg explains what the ruling means for schools, taxpayers.

 

Houston, Fort Bend and Cy-Fair were among more than 600 school districts that sued the state over cuts to public school funding.

They recently won a favorable ruling, for the second time, from state district Judge John Dietz. He called the state’s school finance system unconstitutional.

To find out more about the ruling, News 88.7 Education Reporter Laura Isensee talks with former state Representative Scott Hochberg.

A Democrat, Hochberg represented southwest Houston in the Texas Legislature for two decades and became known as an expert on the state’s complicated formula for funding public schools.

Scott-Hochberg-texas-tribune.png
Former state Rep. Scott Hochberg at the “How to Pay for Public Education” panel at The Texas Tribune Festival, Sept. 24th 2011.
Image credit: Texas Tribune/flickr

 

Below are some excerpts from the interview. Listen to the audio for the entire conversation.

 

What stood out in this ruling?

“In the past, we weren’t where we wanted to be but we were going in the right direction, just maybe not quickly enough.  Judge Dietz documented in great detail that fact that that progress has come to a halt and in some places turned down. Our SAT scores are going down now. Our gaps between rich and poor are increasing.”

 

What’s next in the legal battle?

“All of the scenarios take you to the Texas Supreme Court. What will likely happen is that we won’t have a decision from the Texas Supreme Court on an appeal of this ruling until after the spring legislative session. The court could either say, ‘Come back in a special session and fix this’ if it decides that there’s something that needs to be fixed. Or it could say, ‘Deal with this in the next regular session of the Legislature’ which would be 2017.”

 

What does this mean for school districts that sued for more money?

“They keep going the way they’re going now. And I think we saw a recognition of what those struggles are in the last few weeks when Commissioner (Michael) Williams actually ratcheted back the schedule for implementation for the STARR test. What the state is doing is, well, maybe we don’t need standards that are that high. And I personally think that’s the wrong direction to go. But it may be a realistic direction to go in the absence of some action by the Legislature.

 

What does this mean for taxpayers?

“The taxpayers in districts that aren’t getting a fair shake from the state ought to be outraged. They probably aren’t because they don’t know what’s happening.

But if you can move across Gessner from one district to another, pay roughly the same taxes that you were paying in one district in the other, but suddenly your child is worth $1,000 to $2,000 less in terms of the educational resources that the state makes available, just because, well, just because of who knows! Because it’s just worked out that way over the years, that’s not fair to you!”

 

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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