Wealth Equalization: A Sticky Decision

Who will pay up next? With the Chapter 41 law in place, school districts identified as wealthy have been or will likely become subjected to “sharing the wealth” through large recapture payments. Over the last 14 years, recapture has been a looming possibility for many school districts across the state of Texas. With its initial goal of equalizing levels of wealth across the state, recapture, also known as The Robin Hood Plan, was presented as the solution to balance the state funding formula for public education in 1993. Nevertheless, its rapid expansion, decrease in budget allotments, and effect on school performance levels poses a threat to the students within these districts.

Skyrocketing from 33 districts in 1993, at the onset of the Recapture program, to 448 districts today, the program and its potential effects continues to spread its reach (School Finance 101: Funding of Texas Public Schools). In fact, the state is collecting more than 1.5 billion dollars annually (Equity Center). The dollar amount of recapture payments made by school districts is increasing, the number of school districts subject to recapture payments is multiplying.

Though the Robin Hood Plan is supposed to take from the rich and give to the poor, what happens when many economically disadvantaged students live in property wealthy school districts? While the Robin Hood Plan is equalizing the wealth and opportunities of these districts, it does not necessarily do the same for the complete student populations. To compensate for large payment for recapture, many districts, including AISD must raise additional money by increasing taxes for the families attending its schools. Representing only 8% of the Texas student population, AISD pays 28% of the recapture payments for the state of Texas — draining this school district from accessing funds that could be used to better the overall success of its students (Texas Education Agency). Due to the need to make these payments, Austin ISD must further tax families — making it difficult for some families to afford to live in Austin and attend an Austin public school. In turn, this is taking financial support from students and the programs that can better their experience and education. For instance, Austin Independent School District currently does not follow guidelines set by Texas Education Agency recommendations due to the reallocation of funds (Texas Education Agency). Classes of Pre-K students are set to eighteen children to one teacher instead of the guidelines of eleven children to one teacher — ultimately affecting the value of these children’s education. The strain of meeting recapture payments not only shows to influence the district’s decisions, but also the overall value of a child’s education in the district.

As recapture payments continue to soar, a concern for school performance levels with regards to college readiness, retention, and varied academic success rates arises. With the reallocation of funds from the students to the state, school districts are forced to make major budget cuts. According to the reporting division of the Texas Education Agency, there has been a subtle shift in the testing scores of students in all subject areas since the onset of recapture (Texas Education Agency). However, in specific districts, like the Austin Independent School District evidence shows a noteworthy effect particularly on economically disadvantaged student population, which makes up 58% of the district (Texas Education Agency). After its first year of recapture, economically disadvantaged students showed a noticeable drop in overall academic performance (Texas Education Agency). And as Austin Independent School District continues to take from its budget to meet recapture payments, the percentage of disadvantaged students at passing standards has fallen in nearly all subject areas each year. While other factors may have contributed to this drop, the timely manner of recapture payments shows a potential source of cause for the varying academic performances. Thus, there is a concern for other districts that may face a similar fate.

An increasing number of districts are subject to the Robin Hood plan, leading to an expansion of the number of districts making recapture payments. Houston Independent School District (HISD) has been recently classified as a property wealthy district and is required to pay a recapture payment, although its population is comprised of 89% economically disadvantaged students (Rich Schools Hopeful Houston ISD Could Topple Robin Hood Plan). With the redistribution of funds to pay recapture expenses and the state, will the Houston Independent school district be forced to cut resources from its students and risk a drop in academic performance? More likely than not, the answer is yes. Budget cuts are around the corner. Nearly $95 million will be cut from programs that enhance the experience and success of the students in the Houston school district (Houston Independent School District). Based on this data, it becomes evident that there is a large disconnect between the value of the property and the families living in the district. With large portion of students coming from low-income families, how could this district still be labeled a property wealthy district? Ineffectively, “rich” districts are labeled by the value of the land and not the income of the residents. Therefore, a reoccurring problem among recapture districts appears as economically disadvantaged students are disproportionately affected.

With the evaluation of the issues Austin Independent School District is facing and Houston Independent School District’s current challenge to recapture payments, the importance of a broader issue is underlined: the outdated education finance system in Texas. While the use of recapture may be beneficial in assisting schools in need of additional funding, it is ripping resources away from students in these districts with high recapture payments. Recapture was originally intended to help and improve the overall funding of the public school system in Texas. However, it ultimately only leads to a disproportionate effect — resulting in the decline of schools paying recapture payments. What once was a funding plan to ensure equalization of wealth across the state of Texas has become a major revenue source in the Texas Education Finance System. Thus, the issue lies within the state of Texas. The funding formulas that the state of Texas relies on is insufficient to meet the resources and in turn, the standards of education. Despite the difficulties that are now at hand, there must be change in order to reach the potential of the education system in Texas.

Works Cited

1. Texas School Coalition (TXSC). Robin Hood.

http://www.txsc.org/robin-hood-law/

2. Houston Independent School District.

http://www.houstonisd.org/recapture

3. Equity Center.

4. Rich Schools Hopeful Houston ISD Could Topple Robin Hood Plan. Collier, Kiah. Texas Tribune. Web. 30 August 2016.

5. School Finance 101: Funding of Texas Public Schools. Texas Education Agency. Office of School Finances. Web. January 2013.

6. Texas Education Agency.

http://tea.texas.gov/Finance_and_Grants/State_Funding/State_Funding_Reports_and_Data/State__Funding_Reports_and_Data/

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