It's been almost a year-to-the-date Texas' Supreme Court ruled school financing as constitutional. But that's not to say it isn't confusing, complex, baffling or bewildering. Use any synonym as a description it's still a system lawmakers in Austin agree is broken. But help may be on the horizon.
In the upcoming special legislative session, Sen. Larry Taylor and Rep. Phil King will author legislation to create a school finance commission. The issue is one of the 20 items Governor Abbott announced will be added to the special sessions agenda.
"Over the last several decades Texas courts have been involved directing the Legislature and local school districts on how to disperse funds they collect, ‘Robin Hood' is a product of that," King said.
The Robin Hood law is where districts, with property wealth above a certain level, are required to "share the wealth" with locally collected tax dollars sent to Austin and redistributed to poorer districts, known as recapturing, or by the more popular name, "Robin Hood."
"The state, federal, local districts and courts have all had a role in creating the bureaucracy that is our public education finance system," King said. "It's incredibly complex. I'd even go as far to say it's worse than trying to figure out the IRS tax code."
So the goal of the commission is to answer questions like: What is the proper source of funding for schools? Property tax? Consumption tax? Federal funds? How should those resources be allocated? How do we insure financial accountability? Can we reduce the cost of doing business for schools?
“Our local school districts are smothered with state and federal regulation,” King said. “Compliance forces them to move resources out of the classroom and into administrative functions. Everyone in business knows that over regulation costs time and money. It's no different for our public schools."
King said last year when the state declared the financing system constitutional it gave the Legislature some flexibility.
"It freed the Legislature up to go in and try to construct a functional education finance system," King said. "That's the objective. While there have been many laudable attempts we've yet to reach consensus and enact real, substantive solutions into law. That is why we need a state commission--with representatives of the Governor and legislative leadership--to thoroughly study the issues, seek input from the wide array of stakeholders and build consensus over the interim."
King said there's not a cookie cutter solution to the school financing problem and in his opinion more local control is important.
“Every school district is unique,” he said. “I have 22 in just my two counties. They range from one of the smallest to very large.”
Governor Abbott said he applauds this effort.
"The school finance system in Texas is broken," said Governor Abbott in a release. "That is why I have called for legislation to create a commission that will work throughout the interim on solutions to our failed Robin Hood program and craft serious reforms for our obsolete school finance system. I am grateful to Sen. Taylor and Rep. King for understanding the importance of this issue and applaud their efforts to begin to fix it."
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274