The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 5, 2013

State district Judge John Dietz issuing a ruling in the school finance trial on Feb. 4, 2013.
State district Judge John Dietz issuing a ruling in the school finance trial on Feb. 4, 2013.

The Big Conversation

A major ruling on Monday marked the latest turn in a case likely to profoundly impact the future of Texas' public school system.

After three months of testimony, district Judge John Dietz ruled yesterday in favor of more than 600 school districts that had sued the state over how it funds public education.

Dietz ruled in favor of the districts on all of their major claims against the school finance system, saying the state has violated its constitution by failing to fairly or sufficiently fund public schools. In shifting the funding burden to the local level, he added, the system has created an unconstitutional statewide property tax.

"There is no free lunch," Dietz said while delivering his ruling. "We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price, or we don't."

Uncertainty surrounding the case has prompted some lawmakers to call for delaying action on school finance this session. The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, which won't rule on the case until after this year's session ends. Another ruling against the state could force Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session, likely in 2014.

Texas officials defended the state's funding system. "I disagree with today’s school finance ruling by the district court in Austin," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a statement. "But I expect an immediate appeal to the Texas Supreme Court."

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams called the ruling "simply one step on this litigation’s path."

Others, including the plaintiffs and some superintendents and state legislators, called the ruling a win for Texas schools. One lawmaker, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said the decision should compel the Legislature to reverse the cuts to public education it made in 2011.

"Judge Dietz’s decision echoes concerns that I have heard from parents and teachers in my district and across the state," Davis said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "As a result of his ruling I believe the Legislature now has a constitutional obligation this session to restore the cuts it made to our schools."

Culled
Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    Piers Morgan brings gun-control crusade to Katy (Houston Chronicle): "A Katy gun store and shooting range provided the setting for Monday's episode of CNN's 'Piers Morgan Tonight,' which featured Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, State Sen. Dan Patrick and rocker and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent."

•    Jerry Brown responds to Rick Perry (Sacramento Bee): "Gov. Jerry Brown said today that the radio ads Texas Gov. Rick Perry is voicing in California are nothing more than a 'few tricks,' doubtful they would influence businesses to leave the Golden State. 'Do you think a few tricks from a politician is going to make any difference?' the Democratic governor told reporters at a business event in Los Angeles, according to a transcript provided by the governor's office. 'People invest their money where these big things have occurred. The ideas, the structures, the climate, the opportunity is right here on the Pacific Rim.' Perry, a Republican, announced this morning that he is airing a new radio ad in California cities criticizing California's business climate and promoting Texas."

•    Morton Gives Emotional Testimony as Court of Inquiry Gets Under Way (The Texas Tribune): "At Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson's court of inquiry, Michael Morton spent more than five hours hashing over the mistakes that led to his wrongful murder conviction. Our report includes a liveblog of the first day of the court of inquiry."

•    Austin Public Safety Commission recommends sweeping gun control measures (Austin American-Statesman): "The Austin Public Safety Commission has recommended sweeping gun control measures that include banning the leasing of government-owned facilities to gun shows and requiring all vendors at such shows to conduct background screenings. Those recommendations are among several in a resolution proposed by Commissioner Kent Anschutz that was unanimously approved at Monday’s meeting."

•    TxDOT Tells Lawmakers Funding Crisis Around the Corner (The Texas Tribune): "The Texas Department of Transportation is two years away from a severe drop in funding unless lawmakers find more cash, agency officials said at a budget hearing Monday."

Quote of the Day: "They deserve under the Second Amendment to meet force with force." — Attorney General Greg Abbott to CNN's Piers Morgan on allowing ranchers along the border access to firearms

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