Thursday, June 02, 2011

How the Texas Legislature Can Ignore a Mandate

OH, now I see. I’ve been wondering these past few months how the Texas legislature can ignore a constitutional mandate to provide adequate funding for public education. By passing budget bills that shorts public education by a whopping $4 billion, the legislature seemingly has violated Article 7 Section 1 of the Texas State Constitution which says:

“Sec. 1.  SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE OF SYSTEM OF PUBLIC FREE  SCHOOLS.  A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Seems pretty clear to me that what they did and what they are still trying to do is unconstitutional.

But now I have my answer. It seems that the lawmakers were cognizant of the fact that their budget is unconstitutional, because one of the bills they are working on in the special session is to pass a law making it okey-dokey to underfund public education.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

“Written into law is a guarantee that schools would get enough money to provide a basic, foundational education for each student. That obligation has dictated what the state has put into the Foundation School Program to cover growing enrollment and a changing student population.”

“But the school finance plan now under consideration by legislators wipes that guarantee out and makes future appropriations dependent upon how much money is available rather than how much is needed.”

So, OK, they make this constitutional by changing the law that mandates that they fully fund public education. After the fact, but that seems to be the plan.

Now I have a new question and pardon my ignorance. This is a part of the constitution. Changing the wording in the constitution is essentially amending it. Don’t constitutional amendments all have to be approved by the voters?

1 comment:

institutionalized said...

The Constitution requires the lege to provide an adequate and equitable system of public schools. The funding statutes determine how the lege intends to accomplish that.

The statutory provision you refer to was enacted by the legislature to meet the constitutional requirement after the Tx Sup Ct determined that the former system was unconstitutional.

But, that statutory scheme is not the only one that can meet the constitutional standard. So, it can be changed without violating the constitution so long as it is replaced with a system for funding education that is both adequate and equitable.

You are right that the lege is attempting to change the rules by abandoning the formula and allowing the legislature to set spending levels each biennium.

But, whatever system they devise is still required to be both adequate and equitable -- and that could be challenged each time the legislature set funding.

Thats why they will likely get sued soon after enactment -- one or more districts will allege that the money was alloted inequitably, or that it was inadequate to provide a constitutionally acceptable level of support for public schools.

The Tx Sup Ct has found former school finance plans inequitable, never reaching the adequacy question. A new claim could raise the issue of whether the level of funding the lege provided is adequate to meet the constitutional mandate.