School districts across Texas are considering withholding recapture payments to the state following moves by Keller ISD and Spring Branch ISD to do just that.
Recapture payments are part of a financing system in which the state collects tax dollars from property-wealthy districts and redistributes the funds to districts with fewer property tax dollars coming in. Such payments, which have become known as “Robin Hood” payments, first began in 1994 with the collection of roughly $127 million from 34 school districts.
The program has grown significantly since then, with roughly $3 billion collected from 160 districts each year, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Keller ISD and Spring Branch ISD recently voted to withhold their payments, citing a lack of transparency on the part of the state as property taxes continue to rise while the basic state allotment of taxpayer money for each Texas student remains the same.
Some districts, like Dallas ISD, have managed to actually increase their overall spending while seeing declines in enrollment, all while falling to substantially boost student achievement outcomes, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Spring Branch ISD Trustee John Perez claimed his district is “certainly underfunded at this point.”
“We don’t control our revenue. We don’t control the dollar per student, the basic allotment that is allocated to us by the state. In 2019, they set it at $6,160. Today, across 18% inflation, it’s still $6,160. At some point, enough is enough,” Perez told ABC 13.
Other school districts have made plans to vote on the question, with both Carroll ISD and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD planning to address Robin Hood payments at upcoming meetings, according to D Magazine.
Recent legislation passed during the July special session would compress the maintenance and operations property tax rate by 10.7 cents per $100 valuation. While the compression could benefit school districts, it will not be official until voted on by Texans in November.
Shorr Heathcote, a Highland Park ISD deputy superintendent, said passing the compression in November could reduce the district’s recapture payment by roughly $18 million, per D Magazine.
Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Board of Trustees President Shannon Braun said the compression would reduce the recapture payments but may not be enough to substantially help her district.
“Right now the state is claiming that they did help recapture,” she said, as reported by D Magazine. “And it does go back to the taxpayer, and schools that are in recapture will pay less, which is great — our payment could go down to $45 million. But that money, it’s still a lot for schools, and it’s still not going back into the school.”
Christy Rome, executive director at the Texas School Coalition, agreed with Braun’s comments, adding that state and district funding is currently about 50-50 in terms of who pays.
“The problem is that many of the elements of our school finance formulas are based, not upon what things cost, but upon what the state could afford at the time the formula was written,” she said, per D Magazine.
Despite concerns from many districts regarding the payments, some district officials do not see an issue and support the current system.
Amanda Simpson, a spokesperson for Coppell ISD, said the district has “no plans” to discuss withholding their payments from the state.
Similarly, during a school board meeting earlier this week, Keller ISD Trustee Ruthie Keyes voted against withholding payments.
“We do have a fiduciary responsibility to this district, and as part of that fiduciary responsibility, I think it’s protecting our funds,” said Keyes, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. “I think what we’re telling people is, ‘we don’t have to follow the law.’”