Houston Voters Say No to "Robin Hood"

HISD rejects making school finance payments

Houston Voters Say No to

Amidst the crumbling debris of last week's election, there was one vote in Texas that nobody noticed, but which may have monumental consequences for school finance. Houston ISD voters delivered a message to the state: We won't send you our property tax dollars.

In a referendum called by school district trustees, HISD residents voted almost two-to-one to block the sending of recapture payments to the state under the "Robin Hood" school finance system. That's the process whereby the state takes payments from what are classified as "property rich" districts. However, contrary to popular misconception, the money does not go to poorer school districts, but rather into the state's general revenue fund.

Estimates for the hole this would blow in HISD's finances have shifted over time. When trustees first said they needed voter approval to send the payments, the deficit hovered around $100 million. At this point, it seems closer to $165 million.

Recapture is a budget killer. Austin ISD is expected to send $406 million (35% of all maintenance and operations taxes) to the state this year alone. It's a similar story in Galveston ISD (28%), and still nothing compared to Cotulla (a brain warping 79%). The Texas School Coalition has already released a statement saying, "We understand the frustration felt by Houston voters, as our districts have struggled with the same predicament and challenge of sending local property tax revenue to the state without the ability to maintain the resources necessary to serve local students."

The cause for this Houston revolt is a little-known fix in the school finance system called the additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR). That was basically a hold harmless provision added into Robin Hood in 2005 that let a whole bunch of school districts that should be sending recapture payments off the hook.

However, in the complicated morass of dysfunctional negotiations that marked the school finance debate last session, that provision disappeared. That means that 243 districts – including HISD – will have to start cutting checks to the state.

Only HISD voters have voted No, and now the state has to work out what to do next. The Texas Education Agency could simply move some expensive properties off HISD's tax rolls and over to another district; or they could consolidate HISD with another district.

Of course, anyone paying attention knew this fight was coming. The state has consistently ignored the fact that AISD and the other Travis County school districts sink hundreds of millions every year into their coffers, no matter how much stress it puts on taxpayers and classrooms. Without ASATR, that's 243 districts suddenly in financial straits.

AISD Board President Kendall Pace called the result of the HISD vote "Russian roulette. [It's] an arrogant and bold move, but maybe they have enough pull in the Legislature to get finance reform this spring."

Similarly, AISD Board Vice President Paul Saldaña had a very simple response for his HISD colleagues: "Welcome to the neighborhood." He argued that having the biggest school district in the state come out in such stark opposition to Robin Hood "shines a light on what's going on." While he had sympathy for HISD’s plight, "We've been looking forward to this whole thing. They've come to a realization that they were going to be subjected to [recapture]."

So, while the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current school finance system is constitutional, there will almost inevitably be a lot of angry taxpayers contacting their legislators as the new legislative session starts. House Appropriations Committee member Donna Howard, D-Austin, forecast a backlash to ASATR's death in May, and told the Chronicle: "It's been an unwritten law: 'Let's not let Houston go there.'"

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Texas House of Representatives
Dawnna Dukes' Charges Dropped
Dawnna Dukes' Charges Dropped
13 felonies gone, two misdemeanors resolved

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 24, 2017

Anti-Bullying Bill Filed for Texas Legislature
Anti-Bullying Bill Filed for Texas Legislature
San Antonio lawmakers open pre-filing season with David's Law today

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 14, 2016

More 85th Legislature
Live at the Lege
Live at the Lege
The Chronicle counts down to sine die

the News Staff, May 29, 2017

Last Day at the Lege
Last Day at the Lege
Sine die arrives as threat of a special session looms

Richard Whittaker, May 29, 2017

More by Richard Whittaker
Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
We know the winners, now who'll be running the show?

Feb. 14, 2019

How Robert Rodriguez Saved <i>Alita: Battle Angel</i> From the Scrap Heap
How Robert Rodriguez Saved Alita: Battle Angel From the Scrap Heap
After a decade and a half, the legendary manga's battle dreams are made real

Feb. 15, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Texas House of Representatives, 85th Legislature, Texas Senate, School Finance, Robin Hood, Recapture, ASATR, Houston ISD, Texas School Coalition

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle