Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Terrorism of a Different Kind

America won a battle in the war on terrorism last week, but not in the "traditional" Islamists vs. the world struggle. This particular form of terrorism afflicts all of us, yet we've hardly been able to do anything about it. Until last week, in Texas.

What am I talking about? Judicial terrorism. The kind imposed on us by liberal courts over the years. The kind that usurps the power of the state legislatures, local school boards, and the people to decide how best to educate our children.

Today's editorial from the Wall Street Journal sums up the Texas victory:

The Texas Supreme Court did the expected last week and struck down the statewide property tax for funding public schools. But what was surprising and welcome was the Court's unanimous ruling that the Texas school system, which spends nearly $10,000 per student, satisfies the funding "adequacy" requirements of the state constitution. Most remarkable of all was the court's declaration that "more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students."
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) also comments on the decision, with predictable spin (emphasis mine):
The Texas Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling on Nov. 22, 2005, in the latest, and, for now, definitive, round of school finance litigation. The litigation involved the state of Texas defending itself against a challenge by two groups of school districts asserting that the current system of school finance was unconstitutional because it was inadequate, inefficient and effectively constituted a statewide property tax which violates the Texas Constitution. The trial court agreed with the school districts on all major counts, except one relating to facilities funding. The state and districts involved agreed to skip the appellate court and bring an expedited appeal directly to the Supreme Court.
In summary, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the school finance system essentially establishes an unconstitutional statewide property tax. However, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the trial court with regard to adequacy and efficiency. Though TCTA certainly would have preferred that the Supreme Court rule that the schools were inadequately and inefficiently funded, the state’s win on these points appears to be a narrow one. As you will note from the excerpts from the actual decision below, the state appears to have “squeaked by” for now.
The complete decision by the court is here. TCTA exerpted the decision in their summary. Here are some encouraging bits:
  • Deficiencies and disparities in public education that fall short of a constitutional violation find remedy not through the judicial process, but through the political processes of legislation and elections.
  • [T]he judiciary’s duty is to decide the legal issues properly before it without dictating policy matters.
  • The public education system need not operate perfectly; it is adequate if districts are reasonably able to provide their students the access and opportunity the district court described.
  • The Constitution does not require a particular solution. We leave such matters to the discretion of the Legislature.
Contrast this decision with the reality here in New Jersey, imposed on the taxpayers by the ten (!) decisions in Abbott v. Burke from 1997-2003. They include the requirement for the Legislature "to assure by the commencement of the 1997-1998 school year, that per-pupil expenditures in the poor urban districts are equivalent to the average per-pupil expenditure in the wealthy suburban districts."
They also require the commissioner of education to implement full day kindergarten and half-day preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, school-to-work programs and alternative schools. Finally, and most expensively, they require funding for whatever supplemental programs the districts want, funding for "life-cycle and infrastructure deficiencies," and the assumption of management responsibility for school construction.

The courts can have a large impact on state policy toward any number of things, but have no business setting those policies. New Jersey courts have consistently gotten it wrong on education. Texas has gotten it right, this time.