In a pointed moment of Greg Abbott’s State of the State speech, the governor called out freshman House member Will Metcalf. Abbott said the Republican from Conroe is the youngest member of the Legislature, having been born in 1984. “For his entire life, the State of Texas has been mired in litigation about school funding,” Abbott said. “I think we can all agree it’s time to put school finance litigation behind us. It’s time to stop fighting about school finance and start fixing our schools.”
Abbott was mostly correct. The only governor who has not had a school finance lawsuit hanging over his or her head since 1984’s Edgewood v. Kirby lawsuit was George W. Bush, also once known as Señor Suerte, Mr. Lucky. As Bush took office, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the so-called Robin Hood school finance plan adopted under Ann Richards was constitutional. Bush was free of the school finance headache. However, because of changing finances and demographics, no school finance funding formula remains intact for more than about ten years. So the school districts went back to court in 2003, and the state has been in litigation ever since, with a district judge ruling the system unconstitutional last year.
A decade of arguing has resolved little, and Abbott’s call to solve public school finance in Will Metcalf’s lifetime sounded like bold leadership. But like much of the rest of Abbott’s State of the State speech, he offered policies that polished the edges of Texas’ challenges without solving the bigger problems. For instance, the biggest problem of school finance is how to distribute money fairly and who has to pay for it. That is the detail that has bedeviled many of a state politician, and Abbott appears to be one more.