This commentary originally appeared in The Quroum Report on September 10, 2014.
Supremes overturned him on two of three major conclusions in 2006 and are likely to do so again
Having sat through the both of the recent school finance trials I gained great respect for the intellect of Judge Dietz. However, he gravely missed the mark in his recent school finance ruling. The likelihood of his decision standing on appeal is slim. Just as the Texas Supreme Court ignored most of his findings of fact in the last round of school finance litigation, they will likely do so again.
In 2006 the high court overturned Judge Dietz on both big issues -adequacy and equity. They only allowed districts a minor victory on the state property tax issue thereby enabling them to recover legal fees. The Texas Supreme Court refused to tell the legislature they had to spend more money on education.
On February 4, 2013 Judge Dietz said from the bench that he and I come from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Since I’m very conservative, the Judge obviously considers himself to be very liberal. Having heard all the same evidence as the Judge, I have a very different interpretation of the evidence in this case. In my opinion, the state presented a compelling case on both the adequacy and equity issues. Further, from my perspective the evidence was overwhelming regarding the efficiency issue –which the Judge refused to give serious consideration.
The point is -none of us can ever be completely objective; our personal values and beliefs affect how we view and interpret any evidence. That is especially true of an issue like school finance where so much depends on where you stand on the political spectrum. Although I have great respect for Judge Dietz, I feel strongly that his opinion in this case is grossly flawed. We all value education, but have very differing views as to solutions.
For example, Dr. Eric Hanushek is one of the most respected school finance experts in the nation. His regression analysis showed no relationship between spending levels and student results. Yet, Judge Dietz did not find Dr. Hanushek to be a credible witness. To this judge, more money is the solution. By his view, schools are currently doing a bad job and that is only because they do not have enough money to do otherwise. That is a very different view than held by most Texans and ignores what the Texas Supreme Court has said in the past about the need to restructure the education system.
As the initial trial started in 2012, one close observer of school finance Tweeted “Oh boy, another school finance trial –look how bad we are doing, look how bad we are doing –give us more money.” Although somewhat in jest, the Tweet summed-up the school district’s case.
Judge Dietz agreed. His opinion is basically a 400 page shopping list justifying all the ways school districts could spend more money. Yet, he gives no attention to the efficiency issue –how current dollars are allocated and if those funds could be allocated more effectively.
It is highly probable that Judge Dietz’s interpretation of the evidence in the school finance case will differ significantly from the way nine conservative judges will view that same evidence. Judge Dietz, who is scheduled to retire this year, has been successfully elected in the Travis County Democratic Primary multiple times since he became presiding judge of the 250th District Court in 1991. Obviously, our Texas Supreme Court is elected statewide by Texans who see things differently than most Travis County Democrats.
Knowing that the case will be viewed at the higher court level through a very different lens may well be why the opinion was delayed until Labor Day. If Judge Dietz actually thought his opinion would be upheld he could have issued his decision much earlier this year thereby giving the high court an opportunity to confirm his ruling. An accelerated time-line might have allowed appellate action prior to the next legislative session. Instead, as it now stands the Dietz’s ruling is assured of being in place next session.
This unanswered opinion will provide a battle cry for those who see ‘more money’ as the only solution.
Kent Grusendorf served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1987 to 2007. He was chairman of the House Public Education Committee from 2003. He now works on education issues on behalf of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Copyright September 10, 2014, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved