Feb 11, 2022 - News

The case for changing Texas' Robin Hood program

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Austin public school district forked over more than $710 million to the state last year as part of the "Robin Hood" program.

Driving the news: Texas School Coalition, an association of districts that pay recapture, released a report this week highlighting just how much tax money leaves local coffers to help balance the state budget.

  • Originally intended as an equity measure to send money from wealthy districts to poorer ones, recapture money is increasingly siphoned away from schools for other state purposes.
  • Given that Austin ISD's budget is about $1.7 billion, the "Robin Hood" money is a huge chunk of local property tax revenue headed out the door that could otherwise pay for teacher raises to classroom chalk and more.

Why it matters: Austin ISD ranked first among Texas school districts in the amount paid to the state in recapture.

  • Eanes ISD, in suburban Westlake, is sixth, sending more than $101 million to the state.

Of note: The Texas School Coalition's address is in a portable building next to Eanes ISD HQ.

Meanwhile, 51.9% of the student population in Austin is considered economically disadvantaged; in Eanes, only 3.3% of the student population comes from low-income homes.

  • The report points out that the program does not differentiate between property wealth and the personal wealth of the community.

The intrigue: The group released the report to combat the perception that the program was "fixed" in 2019, when the state legislators passed House Bill 3, which overhauled Texas' school finance system.

  • ā€‹ā€‹ā€‹ā€‹"We need time to build awareness so we can achieve goals in the next legislative session," Texas School Coalition executive director Christy Rome tells Axios.

Flashback: Robin Hood has been in effect since the '90s, but the amount paid each year has grown as property values have skyrocketed.

  • In 1993, 34 of the wealthiest school districts in the state paid $127 million in recapture. Last year, 158 school districts paid $2.96 billion to the state.

What the report recommends:

  • The recapture formula should take into account the cost of education in different parts of the state and the cost of educating economically disadvantaged students, like those in Austin.
  • Money collected through recapture should only be spent on education and not other parts of the state's budget.

Property tax bills should state how much of the local taxes will be paid.


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