Clements Calls 4th Special Session on School Aid in Texas
The Texas House last week rejected an attempt to override Gov. William P. Clements Jr.'s veto of a school-finance bill, thus ensuring the need for another special session and plunging the state's educators and lawmakers into a new round of uncertainty.
Mr. Clements called the legislature back into session beginning this week--the fourth time he has convened a special session in response to the Texas Supreme Court's decision last October declaring the state's school-funding system unconstitutional.
Lawmakers will now work to fashion a new school-funding formula by June 20, the date District Judge Scott McCown has set for a court-appointed master to submit his plan to the court. The master, William Kilgarlin, was scheduled to release his plan late last week.
Some observers maintained, however, that any plan enacted by the legislature would supersede the master's plan if the former was ready for judicial review by June 20.
"Anything they passed would have the presumption of constitutionality," said Craig Foster, executive director of the Equity Center, a coalition of low-wealth districts.
But, Mr. Foster warned, "There is no precedent for any of this."
Carl A. Parker, chairman of the Senate education committee, said he was uncertain whether the court would "automatically" view a legisla8tive plan as preferable to the master's.
"Once the court adopts a plan, I think the burden of proof shifts to the legislature," he said.
The attorney general would then have to prove the legislature's plan better meets the court's mandate, Senator Parker added.
In his May 1 ruling, Judge McGowan enjoined the state from releasing any funds for schools after June 1. Although no state money was scheduled to be released to districts until June 25, some teachers said the legislature's failure to override could cause their pay to be delayed.
John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said he was not sure if the master would let the state release enough money to cover teachers' salaries.
"We're very nervous and very worried," he said. The t.f.t. and other teachers' groups planned lastweek to "present to the master a plea that teacher salaries be honored throughout the summer."
Others expressed doubt last week that the legislature and the Governor would be able to agree on a plan by June 20.
Mr. Foster said the chances that Mr. Clements and the legislature would reach a compromise that would also be acceptable to the court were "pretty much nil."
Alternatively, legislative leaders might be able to muster enough support to surmount a new veto. The legislature is "kind of feisty at this point," Mr. Parker observed, adding that he "wouldn't be surprised" if lawmakers voted to override.
The Senate overrode the Governor's veto of the five-year, $4-billion school-finance plan on May 23.
The House override attempt May 29 failed on a 92-to-55 vote, short of the required two-thirds majority.