This year was Houston ISD’s first time being declared “property-rich” in the state’s school finance system, and because of that, they fell prey to the Robin Hood funding scheme.
Under the complex school finance system, property rich schools – like HISD – are required to send money to the state to aid poorer districts, but not without a vote of approval from taxpayers first. When the question was posed, voters resoundingly denied sending that money to the state in a 62 to 37 percent vote.
Voters were asked were asked to cast ballots for or against the following:
“Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.”
While that sounds rather mundane, the underlying question was whether or not to allow HISD, which serves a majority of low-income students, to send a check of $162 million to the state to disperse to districts they determine are in need.
What’s worrisome is what comes after the defeat. This is reportedly the first time a school district in the state has refused to give in to Robin Hood.
Since HISD is essentially rejecting the state’s request, the Texas Education Agency has the ability to detach commercial property from the district’s property tax rolls and assign it to other districts.
In short, districts can willingly hand over the money, or it will be taken. Either way, Robin Hood gets the cash.
The proposition caused a major divide in Houston with Mayor Sylvester Turner coming out against it in concert with the Houston Federation of Teachers PAC, Houstonians for Stronger Schools, and a number of school board trustees. Their coalition spent over $100,000 to defeat the measure.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) urged voters to support it saying this wasn’t the way to go about reforming school finance. “If you vote no, you are essentially voting yourself a $32 million tax increase,” argued Bettencourt.
Opponents hoped that if the proposition failed it spur the legislature to take up school finance reform. We won’t know until the 2017 legislative session if this strategy pays off.
There are a few options that HISD can rely on. If the TEA does step in, it will not be until summer, giving the legislature time to act before then. If that options fails, the board could call another election to give voters a chance to change their mind. If all options are exhausted, HISD taxpayers should expect a tax increase, according to the district’s budget manager, to make up for the loss of commercial property.