Other Voices

It’s time for the Legislature to fix school funding, oust ‘Robin Hood’

Speaker of the House Joe Straus, left, speaks in the House chambers as Chris Griesel looks on at the state Capitol in 2015.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus, left, speaks in the House chambers as Chris Griesel looks on at the state Capitol in 2015. AP

The Texas Supreme Court ruling last May was unequivocal: It’s the Legislature’s job to fix the problems that cause our public schools to be underfunded and taxpayers overburdened.

In response, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, promptly instructed the House Appropriations and Public Education committees to address two of the biggest problems with public school funding, the so-called “Robin Hood” redistribution of local tax dollars and the state’s over-reliance on local property taxes, and to make recommendations when the Legislature convenes in January.

“It’s important that we keep local tax dollars in local districts as much as possible, while still ensuring that all students have access to quality public schools,” Straus said.

When the Robin Hood, or share-the-wealth, concept was enacted into state law back in 1993, only 34 local districts were required to pay a total of $130 million in order to equalize funding among schools statewide.

Now, 23 years and $20 billion later, approximately 250 districts are expected to pay $2 billion in share-the-wealth payments during the 2016-2017 school year alone.

That’s nearly a quarter of districts in the state paying an amount that far exceeds even the amount that proceeds from the Texas lottery contribute to public education.

It’s important for taxpayers to understand that an increase in local property values and in local property taxes does not automatically translate into an increase in local school funding.

For taxpayers in hundreds of Texas school districts, it’s quite the opposite.

As local property values continue to increase and more districts are forced to raise billions of dollars that they are not allowed to keep, the state’s funding obligation to public education diminishes accordingly.

To add insult to injury, the Legislature is poised to eliminate a property tax safeguard put in place a decade ago.

When the Legislature reduced local property tax rates by one-third in 2006, it guaranteed that school districts would not lose funding as a result.

However, in 2011 the Legislature imposed a Sept. 1, 2017, repeal of that safeguard.

Some Texas school districts are faced with the prospects of cutting even more funds from their student budgets or imposing even more tax increases when that state funding goes away.

Our schools need adequate funding to be able to hire and retain quality teachers, maintain manageable class sizes, implement quality early education programming and prepare Texas’ increasingly diverse student population for meaningful, high-paying jobs.

Given the importance of education in the 21st century economy, Texas cannot continue to rely upon antiquated funding formulas that shortchange public schools and overburden local taxpayers.

It’s time for the Legislature to take back its responsibility to adequately fund Texas public schools.

Christy Rome is executive director of the Texas School Coalition, representing school districts that must send some of their local property tax dollars to the state.