When I was a boy, I read the adventures of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Along with his compadres Little John and Friar Tuck, Robin would waylay rich travelers to relieve them of their gold and then distribute to those oppressed by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. It was a good story and over the years, many movies about Robin Hood have been made, but none more famous perhaps than Errol Flynn’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
In 1994, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling that required property wealthy school districts to share their tax revenue with less property wealthy school districts. It was called “recapture” but it quickly earned the nickname “Robin Hood.”
The way it works is simple. As a school district’s assessed property value increases in value, the state applies a formula to determine if the district will be subject to recapture. This comes about when the first dollar of a school district’s maintenance and operation tax rate applied to the total taxable value within their appraisal district and then divided by the student average daily attendance exceeds $514,000 per student. If it does, the amount exceeding this threshold must be paid directly to the state of Texas by the school district. This is called recapture or “Robin Hood” and most notably all recapture dollars are comprised of local property taxes.
A recent article in the Texas Tribune cited a report by the governor’s office on school finance. This report is available online at the Texas Tribune. In it, the report stated in part, “As property values have increased, more districts have entered recapture and those districts in recapture have seen their payments continue to increase.”
Further, “If current trends hold for the next decade… ‘Robin Hood’ payments may form a larger percentage of school funding than state tax dollars by 2028.”
This means in little more than nine years, taxpayers could be paying more to the state in recapture payments than they are receiving from the state to help fund school district operations.
“Robin Hood” has been working very well for the state. In 1994, 34 school districts paid the state of Texas $131 million in recapture payments. However, in 2018 the number of districts paying recapture and the amount contributed rose to 191 school districts writing checks to the state of Texas of just over $2 billion in recapture payments. These payments are projected to rise to over $2.6 billion dollars in 2019.
There are over 5.3 million children attending public school in Texas. Sadly, many of them who come from school districts subject to recapture or “Robin Hood” are living in poverty. In many of our large urban school districts, the majority of their students are economically disadvantaged. Is it fair to rob school districts of their own local funding – the funding they need to meet the needs of their children, by a school funding formula the Texas Supreme Court has called Byzantine, antiquated, and in need of reform? I would argue that it is not.
So does “Robin Hood” take from the rich to give to the poor. When you consider that “Robin Hood” has continued to rob property wealthy school districts of needed revenue (local tax dollars), which hurts our economically disadvantaged children the most one wonders in this case if “Robin Hood” and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham are not one and the same.
All of our children deserve a quality education. The legislature has a constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in this state (Texas Constitution Article 7, Section 1). State statute imposes a further duty upon the legislature: “The mission of the public education system of this state is to ensure that all Texas children have 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).
Just as we hold our school districts accountable for student achievement, we should also hold the State Legislature accountable for supporting a public school system that provides a quality education for all students as the state constitution requires.
The Legislature needs to uphold its constitutional duty to support and maintain a system of public schools in Texas, and fund it adequately and equitably. Let us focus our efforts on improving our public schools, which have and always will educate the majority of our students. If you agree, let your legislators know.
(Jim Rice was elected to serve on the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees in May 2010. These comments are his alone and he is not speaking on behalf of the board.)