Houston taxpayers will be asked in November to increase taxes by $162 million to appease the state’s “Robin Hood” school funding scheme.
The Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees placed the item on the Nov. 8 general election ballot in an effort to meet the demands of school funding under chapter 41 of the Texas Education Code, commonly known as “Robin Hood”.
Under the controversial school funding system, HISD is classified as “property wealthy” and must give the state approximately $162 million to be redistributed to other districts. HISD trustees were faced with a choice: either send the money, or have the Texas Education Agency designate to other school districts properties inside the taxing jurisdiction of HISD worth the required amount. In light of the district’s volatile financial situation, the board opted to ask the taxpayers for the money in a special election.
Not sending the money and instead having the state come in and assign HISD properties to other districts would have a number of repercussions. The properties decided by TEA would be taxed at a different rate to provide the necessary revenue for “property poor” districts benefiting from the arrangement. The finances and tax rate of HISD would also be affected, as trustee Mike Lunceford explained:
“What’s going to happen is you take $18 billion of our property out, somebody else is going to tax it at a different rate. We have bonds that we’ve sold based on revenue off of those assets that we’re going to have to make up somewhere else. So now we’re going to have to raise your taxes again, not only the 160, but we’re going to have to raise your taxes so we can make up the $31 million were missing that somebody else got because they can tax it in their INS rate.”
The HISD board maintains that asking the voters for $162 million is the only way to avoid having properties in HISD assigned to other districts. However, it has been noted that if the board had engaged in better planning and shown more fiscal restraint, they would be in a better position to cope with the demands of Robin Hood.
The board’s fiscal irresponsibility continues even though the money HISD is expected to lose under Robin Hood is expected to increase from $162 million to $257 million in the fiscal year 2017-2018.
In the same meeting, just minutes before HISD trustees put the question of whether to take $162 million from the taxpayers on the ballot, the board approved the allocation of over $1.2 million to rename several schools named after men associated with the Confederacy in a 7-2 vote (with Anna Eastman and Greg Myers voting against).
The issues HISD is facing with Chapter 41 highlight the serious problems with the Robin Hood system. Even though HISD is technically “property wealthy” as defined by law, the district has a student poverty rate of 76%. Tax dollars that would be used to educate children in Houston schools will now be redistributed to other districts, with HISD taxpayers having no control over how their money is spent.
HISD trustees are hoping that the State Legislature will change the Robin Hood system, with trustee Diana Davila stating, “We really have to get the word out to the legislature, to our state representatives, that they have to fix this broken system.”