Attorneys in the school finance trial spent six hours arguing the intent of private emails at the presiding judge’s recusal hearing on Friday. The attorney general’s office is arguing that emails exchanged by the prosecution and Travis County Judge John Dietz show the judge is biased and should be removed from the historic case.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has asked the Travis County judge overseeing the lawsuit against the state’s school finance system to recuse himself from the case. The problem stems from a series of emails between the judge and attorneys representing the school districts.
The Texas House Committee on Public Education is looking at what can be done to improve low-rated school campuses.
Texans for Education Reform, an education advocacy group that is spending heavily in 2014, told the committee on Tuesday that lawmakers need to create a special state district for school campuses are chronically underperforming; an achievement school district.
“We have to think about morally responsible timelines for intervention for low-performing schools,” said Julie Linn, executive director for Texans for Education Reform.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, is calling on Attorney General Greg Abbott to come to the table and reach a settlement agreement in legal case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.
As Travis County District Judge John Deitz weighs hundreds of pieces of evidence in the lawsuit, Davis called on Abbott, who is representing the state in the case and is Davis' likely Republican opponent in the governor's race, to make sure Texas school districts are adequately funded.
Travis County District Judge John Dietz has finished hearing closing arguments in the Texas school finance lawsuit and now attorneys from both sides await a decision. Dietz is taking his time to formulate an opinion because the case will likely go to the Texas Supreme Court.
"I think the evidence was pretty compelling that restoring some of the money just didn’t fix all the problems," said Houston attorney David Thompson, who represents a large group of schools in the lawsuit.
Thomas Ratliff, a Republican seated on the State Board of Education, which is one of the defendants in the Texas school finance trial, says he hopes his side loses in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of how schools are funded in the state.
"I think we go back to the drawing board and put the school finance system back together without all the bubble gum and bailing wire we’ve added to it," Ratliff said. "The system is so out of whack that we’ve got A, big disparities; B, inefficient distribution system; and an inadequate funding level."
According to the Texas Education Agency, nearly a quarter of all high school juniors have fell short of end-of-course graduation requirements -- those numbers were what attorneys led with on day two of the Texas school finance trial.
According to the TEA, over 309,000 students met the necessary requirements and passed a set of end-of-course exams in order to graduate in 2015, which works out to about 76 percent of all Texas high school juniors.
Nearly a year ago Travis County District Judge John Dietz ruled that the system used to fund schools in Texas was unconstitutional, but didn’t reduce that order to writing. The same trial is once again underway but this time with different evidence to consider.
Dietz gave the Texas Legislature another chance to replace the $5.4 billion that was cut from public education funding in the 2011 session.
"It has been the consistent desire of this court to present the most up to date data to the Texas Supreme Court for their consideration," Dietz said.
The fight over public school funding continues with another installment of Judge John Dietz’s courtroom. In February of last year he ruled that the state funding levels were unconstitutional.
In the last legislative session the state restored $3.4 billion of the more than $5 billion they cut the previous session, but was it enough? And with the current political backdrop will education be in the spotlight for the remaining months? Will it be an effective and compelling issue for Texas voters?