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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Three groups of school districts raise three separate challenges to the funding of Texas public schools. The district court, after a five-week bench trial, found in favor of the school districts on all their claims except for inefficient operations funding and enjoined the defendants (collectively “the state defendants”) from continuing to fund the public schools. The court issued its judgment on Nov. 30, 2004, but stayed the effect of its injunction for ten months, until Oct. 1, 2005, “to give the Legislature a reasonable opportunity to cure the constitutional deficiencies in the finance system.” The Legislature convened in regular session in January 2005, and while it gave much attention to public education issues, it did not reach consensus. After adjournment, the Governor called the Legislature into special session on June 21, 2005, and that session was in progress when this court heard oral argument in this case on July 6. That session also ended without enactment of public education legislation, and the Governor immediately called a second special session to convene July 21. Thirty days later, the Legislature again adjourned without enacting public education legislation. The district court’s injunction has been stayed by the state defendants’ appeal. HOLDING:The judgment of the district court is modified and affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for reconsideration of the award of attorney fees. Texas Constitution Article VII, �1 states: “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.” Article VIII, �1-e states simply: “No State ad valorem taxes shall be levied upon any property within this State.” The court holds, as did the district court, that local ad valorem taxes have become a state property tax in violation of Article VIII, �1-e. Although the districts have offered evidence of deficiencies in the public school finance system, the court concludes that those deficiencies do not amount to a violation of Article VII, �1. The court believes that the guarantee of public free schools assured by Article VII, �1, extends not only to school children but to the public at large, which is vitally concerned that there be a general diffusion of knowledge. The court agrees that the provision creates no rights in school districts, but such rights are not a prerequisite for standing to assert that the provision has been violated. Standing to assert a constitutional violation depends on whether the claimant asserts a particularized, concrete injury. The court concludes that the plaintiff and intervenor school districts have standing to assert the claims made in this case. “The Constitution commits to the Legislature, the most democratic branch of the government, the authority to determine the broad range of policy issues involved in providing for public education. But the Constitution nowhere suggests that the Legislature is to be the final authority on whether it has discharged its constitutional obligation. If the framers had intended the Legislature’s discretion to be absolute, they need not have mandated that the public education system be efficient and suitable; they could instead have provided only that the Legislature provide whatever public education it deemed appropriate. The constitutional commitment of public education issues to the Legislature is primary but not absolute.” The court concludes that the separation of powers does not preclude the judiciary from determining whether the Legislature has met its constitutional obligation to the people to provide for public education. The court agrees with the state defendants that Article VII, �1 does not provide the courts a basis for declaring what education or finance systems will alone satisfy its standards. But the provision is self-executing insofar as it prohibits any system that fails to meet those standards. The court agrees with the district court that, to fulfill the constitutional obligation to provide a general diffusion of knowledge, districts must provide “all Texas children . . . 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.” Texas Education Code �4.001(a). Districts satisfy this constitutional obligation when they provide all of their students with a meaningful opportunity to acquire the essential knowledge and skills reflected in curriculum requirements such that upon graduation, students are prepared to “continue to learn in post-secondary educational, training, or employment settings.” Texas Education Code �28.001. The court adds a caveat: 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 court states that an impending constitutional violation is not an existing one, and it remains to be seen whether the system’s predicted drift toward constitutional inadequacy will be avoided by legislative reaction to widespread calls for changes. Article VII, �1 requires an efficient system of free public schools, considering the system as a whole, not a system with efficient components. The court considers 1. whether the inefficient provision of facilities found by the district court makes the entire system inefficient, or 2. whether, as the intervenors contend, the system is inefficient for reasons apart from its provision of facilities. The court concludes that the public school finance system is not inefficient in violation of article VII, �1. The district court concluded that the public education system is not “suitable” as required by Article VII, �1 for the same reason it concluded that the system is inadequate and inefficient, that is, because the funding is insufficient. The possibility of improvement does not render the present system unsuitable for adequately and efficiently providing a public education. The court concludes that the system does not violate the constitutional requirement of suitability. “Although the statute does not promise any particular level of supplemental funding, local supplementation is made a core component of the system structure, necessitated by the basic philosophy of the virtue of local control. The State cannot provide for local supplementation, pressure most of the districts by increasing accreditation standards in an environment of increasing costs to tax at maximum rates in order to afford any supplementation at all, and then argue that it is not controlling local tax rates.” Accordingly, the court concludes that the public school finance system violates Article VIII, �1-e of the Texas Constitution. Because the court concludes that the plaintiffs are entitled to only a part of the relief granted by the district court, and that the intervenors are entitled to no relief, the court reverses the award of attorney fees and remands the case to the district court to reconsider what award of attorney fees, if any, is appropriate. The effective date of the injunction is modified to June 1, 2006. OPINION:Hecht, J.; Jefferson, C.J., O’Neill, Wainwright, Medina, Green and Johnson, JJ., joined. Brister, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Willett, J., did not participate in the decision. DISSENT:Brister, J. “[N]othing about the Article VIII claim here inevitably extends to the whole school-finance system. Surely a single violation of Article VIII anywhere cannot justify an injunction shutting down school finances everywhere. . . . “[I]t is no mystery why the plaintiff school districts never asked for narrower relief. If only section 45.003(d) were declared unconstitutional, they would once again have meaningful discretion to set tax rates as they wish, and could raise them to pay for all the programs they say their communities demand. But they also might find out at the next election that their beliefs about community demand were somewhat exaggerated. “Instead, by enjoining school-finance across the state, the school districts here hope to obtain funding from sources other than those within their own borders. Raising revenues from outside sources is unlikely to make school districts more accountable or more efficient. Neither equity nor the Texas Constitution allows school districts to demand supplemental programs on condition that someone else pay for them. “[W]e should demand efficiency, as that is what the Texas Constitution requires. Recognizing the common meaning of”efficient’ would not require us to abandon our previous school-finance cases, or the equity for Texas schools they require. But we cannot keep overlooking the one standard the Texas Constitution explicitly demands. Nor do we help Texas school children by insisting”efficient’ means nothing beyond equal access to taxes. “Someday, the Texas school system must become “efficient” by 21st century standards. As that is what the Texas Constitution requires, we should start that process today.”

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