“The bottom line is whether or not schools are adequately funded, to begin with,” said Christy Rome, the executive director for the Texas School Coalition in a Collin County Business Alliance (CCBA) roundtable Q and A surrounding issues in funding public education in Texas.

According to CCBA board member and former state Senator Florence Shapiro, it can be incredibly difficult to create a fair solution to funding issues.

The forum began by highlighting the Recapture or Robinhood program that currently plays a critical role in funding Texas public schools. According to Senator Shapiro, this was a temporary solution of bringing excess funds from property-wealthy districts to non-property wealthy districts that have become almost permanent and is becoming a toll on property-wealthy districts.  According to recapturetexas.org, 160 districts were expected to pay recapture in the 2021-2022 school year, including Austin ISD, Houston ISD, and Dallas ISD.

“There have been a thousand different iterations of how you change the dynamics of the Recapture momentum. As we ebb and flow, we try to make it as small as possible and then, as we see, appraised values go up, we don’t have any control over that, and as that happens, it goes back up again,” explained Senator Shapiro.

In essence, Recapture’s effort to make things more equitable and fair across the districts has created more inequities, according to Christy Rome.

Explaining Recapture

Christy Rome, who works closely with schools subject to Recapture, explains the formulas of public school funding as a glass of water.

“If a district were to reduce their tax effort that reduces the size of the glass. If the district increases their tax effort, that increases the size of the glass,” said Rome.

According to Rome, the glass then gets filled with local property tax revenue, and then, if the glass is not filled, the state will provide the rest.

“But, if you are able to collect so much money at the local level, that your water spills over onto the floor, then, that’s Recapture or Robin Hood,” said Rome.

She said that the concern here is that the overflow of water is not truly an excess of money, but rather an excess in comparison to what is allowed to be kept locally, as dictated by the state. This can create new inequities and a lot of misconceptions about the actual impact of programs like Recapture.

Common Misconceptions

Misconceptions surrounding Recapture involve wanting to pay less in taxes that go to recapture and that it helps those in need without hurting the districts it is taking from, according to Rome’s presentation at the CCBA roundtable.

Often people suggest paying less Recapture in their taxes.

“Most of the time, when I hear that from people, what they mean by that is I wish we could pay less recapture because I see real needs amongst the students in our district and I wish we could just keep a little more of our local property tax revenue to address those needs,” said Rome.

However, the solution to this isn’t simple. Rome said that even if property taxes are lowered, it will not bring more money into the classrooms like most may believe. Some think, according to Rome, that these property-wealthy districts have enough money and resources to share. But that is not always the case.

“Six of the ten (top pairs of Recapture in the state) have a student population that is 50% economically disadvantaged or more,” said Rome. “These are students that have true needs that must be addressed.”

Rome explains further that this occurs because of the high cost of living in these districts that are not considered when using school finance formulas to determine the budget and Recapture. But do these formulas truly help economically troubled districts?

“Recapture is now over $3.2 billion per year,” said Rome, adding that there was $1.4 billion more in recapture that was actually collected than what the legislature had accounted for as a source of revenue to fund schools. “Now that $1.4 billion dollars additional money was collected, that did not increase school funding,” said Rome.

In essence, the legislature creates a budget based on estimates and often the state makes more in property tax than what is estimated, according to Rome. Due to the Supplemental Appropriations Bill, these extra funds are not returned to the taxpayers or to public education, but to the state’s general fund.

“You can’t trace where dollars go in general revenue,” said Rome.

Rome also states that there was a $5.2 billion decrease in funds for the Foundation School Program because more state property taxes were paid than expected. According to the Texas Education Agency, the Foundation School program ensures that all schools receive funding per student at similar tax efforts, regardless of poverty or wealth. So, all in all, these extra funds that could be put back into the community are being held by the state and it is unclear what the state is doing with that money.

Possible Solutions

Clearly, this is a huge issue that trickles down to impact everybody. Nancy Humphery, Vice President of Plano Independent School District Board said that Plano’s participation in the Recapture program has caused the district to have a lower budget than what is needed for its schools and students.

“Eighty-eight percent of students in the state of Texas graduate high school,” said Humphery, “and if you think about increasing funding for public education, and dealing with this inflation, I think we would have a higher outcome overall. Which equates to a better economy, better jobs and workforce.”

Since the town has become more established or built-up, the costs of living there have gone up, said Humphery. This makes it difficult for young families to move to the area, causing the enrollment to decline and the excess funds taken by recapture rises.

This could lead to a bleak outlook for Texas Public Schools as well as public schools across the country that run in similar manners. However, the CCBA Roundtable on funding public education discussed a few solutions.

“We could increase the basic allotment. I mentioned earlier that inflation has increased by 12% since the passage of House Bill 3. The basic allotment has not increased since that time.” suggests Rome. In essence, this means that the cost for everything has gone up, but the budget for spending for public schools has not shifted to this change, leading to an increase in Recapture.

Furthermore, Rome references a study done with Texas A&M University on the Texas Education Agency website that shows it costs more to live in these districts. But, according to Rome, there are no adjustments to the budget that take this into consideration.

Rome also suggests that the state switches to funding based on enrollment rather than based on attendance. This is hard for funding because there are no adjustments if attendance goes down.

Taxpayers should know where their taxes are going in general, argues Rome. She suggests that the extra money that is collected, due to the underestimate of the state, should be returned to the education fund or back to the taxpayer. This is a concept coined as “taxparency.”

“We do believe that if taxpayers understood this and how their dollars were being used, they would be angry,” said Rome.

The formulas and the ways in which taxes are used by the state are intentionally complex so that the people don’t know too much, said Humphery. She suggests that, without transparency from the state government, there is no accountability for what these excess funds are being spent on.

“We’re accountable for our student outcomes, why is our money that our taxpayers are paying not accountable?” asks Humphery.

Impact of the Polls

The lack of transparent public education funding is a community and state-wide issue.

Humphrey emphasizes the taxpayer’s need to be informed on what is happening with the taxes they are paying to the state. She suggests that citizens should put pressure on state legislatures to explain why they are not informed already.

“I really believe the biggest thing our community can do is understand the issues, understand all of that is going to be on your ballot in November,” said Humphery. “Educate yourself about every issue. Take that time. Do your homework and vote.”

Citizens of Collin County can receive a run-down of political candidates through the Collin County Votes Initiative website sponsored by CCBA, said Senator Shapiro.

For more information on community issues like this, please visit the CCBA website. Or for more information on public education in Texas, please visit the Texas Education Agency website here.

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