House Democrats picked up a surprising ally Monday afternoon in their bid to persuade Republicans to join their quest for immediate action on restoring the cuts to public education: second-term Republican David Simpson. As Trey Martinez Fischer argued for allowing the House to devise a school finance plan, Simpson was making the rounds with Democratic members. Simpson had previously announced his support for early action on school reform in his local paper.
While the debate on the floor was unfolding, the Republican caucus decided it this was an auspicious time to put out the following statement:
The House Republican Caucus announced its support of an appeal of the school finance decision directly to the Texas Supreme Court. The announcement today came after key Republican leaders laid out a responsible course of action during the floor proceedings in the Texas House ot Representatives.
Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Chairman of the GOP Caucus, said the Democrats’ approach to acting now, prior to a final court ruling, amounted to putting a Band-aid on a “45-year broken leg.” Rep. Creighton said “We are strongly in favor of helping Texas schoolchildren while maintaining our respect for the judicial process. Our school finance system is too important to be left to a single liberal state district judge. Republicans believe in the full judicial process, not a short-circuited one that stops a lawsuit of historical importance and enormous magnitude only after a single interpretation.”
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I don’t disagree with the Republicans’ position that the case should be allowed to proceed through the courts. The Legislature is not equipped to craft a school finance plan. The last attempt—a plan known as “target revenue”—was a disaster. But Creighton’s characterization of the court’s ruling was ill-considered. If the Supreme Court rules against the school districts, you know what the Democrats are going to say: “This decision is the work of a court made up of hard-right conservative justices, many of whom live in school districts that are generously funded by the state, while our families must contend with schools that are inadequately funded.” And they would be correct.
As for the comment about “a single liberal state district judge,” it is hard to imagine that any fair-minded jurist would find that the Texas school finance system satisfied constitutional requirements. How can a school finance system meet the tests of adequacy or efficiency when it cuts $5.4 billion dollars from public education, refuses to fund an entire year of enrollment growth, and has a finance mechanism, known as “target revenue” that is inequitable on its face?