Week of May 16-22, 2016

High court rules school finance method is constitutional
AUSTIN — The current method devised by the Texas Legislature in 2011 to fund public education does not violate the state constitution, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled May 13.
The lawsuit challenging the state’s education-funding method originally was brought in 2011 by more than 600 school districts identifying themselves collectively as the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition. Lawyers for the coalition argued that the state falls short of the constitution’s imperative of equitable funding by failing to provide enough money for school districts’ classroom instruction, maintenance and operation and other critical budget areas.
Article 7 of the constitution says: “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.”
In a 100-page ruling, the court said the current system ensures that “all Texas children have access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation.” The court agreed that the current funding system, while imperfect, is “good enough” to satisfy the constitutional mandate, and going forward, it is up to the Legislature, not the courts, to amend the funding formula.
Gov. Greg Abbott called the ruling “a victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution.” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus, Attorney General Ken Paxton and many Republican lawmakers joined the governor in welcoming the ruling. Paxton echoed the ruling in saying school finance “must be debated and shaped by the Texas Legislature, not through decades’ worth of ongoing litigation in the court system.”
In contrast, organizations such as the Texas Association of School Boards, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Texas Democratic Party and a number of Democratic lawmakers expressed disappointment over the nine-member, all-Republican court’s ruling.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said, “The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling held that the state’s school funding system met ‘minimum constitutional requirements,’ turning a cold shoulder to at least two-thirds of Texas school districts that were desperately seeking relief from an inequitable, inefficient and unsustainable school finance system that Texas courts had previously labeled unconstitutional.”
Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said, “Our children deserve more than a minimal education and the Legislature should do all they can to ensure we repair this broken system. Over five million public school students are counting on us.”
Speaker Straus acknowledged “there is ample room for improvement” in school funding and said the Texas House “will continue working to deliver value for taxpayers and provide an outstanding education for our students.”
Revenue is up slightly
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on May 11 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $767.7 million in local sales tax allocations for May.
The total was based on sales made in March by businesses that report tax monthly, plus sales made in January, February and March by quarterly filers. It is 1.1 percent more than allocated in May 2015. 
“The cities of Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and Fort Worth saw noticeable increases in sales tax allocations,” Hegar said. “Energy-centric cities such as Houston, Odessa and Midland continue to see decreases in sales tax allocations.”
Blaze ruled intentional
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on May 11 announced its research laboratory’s finding that the April 17, 2013, fire at the West Fertilizer Company plant in the town of West, Texas, was intentionally set.
Fifteen people died and some 160 were injured in the fire and explosion.
“We will gladly assist in any way possible in the days ahead to expose the criminals behind this heinous crime,” said David Maxwell, director of law enforcement for the Texas attorney general’s office.
GOP meets; Dems are next
The Republican Party of Texas held its state convention May 12-14 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. The final party platform is available online at texasgop.org.
The Texas Democratic Party will hold its state convention June 16-18 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The party platform is available online at txdemocrats.org.