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Recapture is unfair

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WRITE OF CENTER

Since 1994 Robin Hood has “recaptured” money from property wealthy school districts to redistribute to property poor districts. At that time, 34 of the state’s 1025 districts paid $127 million in recapture. This has since increased to 220 districts paying $2.7 billion.

Without reform, recapture will skyrocket to 350 districts and $5 billion by 2023. By 2028, recapture will generate more money than the state would send to poor districts. Literally, taxpayers in property wealthy districts would pay more to fund poor districts than the state or locals!

School financing is a very complicated topic. The latest Texas Supreme Court ruling said while our system is constitutional, it is “Byzantine” and needs serious reform. Thus, the Texas Commission on School Finance was appointed by Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick and former House Speaker Joe Strauss to study our current system and recommend reforms. The Commission released its report and 35 recommendations in December 2018.

Texas currently funds education not per pupil but on a “weighted” student basis. Additional funding goes to educate students considered more challenged: an extra 20 percent for economically disadvantaged students, 10 percent for English language learners, 10 percent for Special Education students, and 12 percent for Career and Technical Education enrollment. Thus, there are more weighted students than actual ones.

According to the Texas Education Agency, Boerne ISD had $7165 per weighted student in the 2017-18 school year vs a state average of $6633, but this was before BISD paid $9.4 million in Robin Hood. Recapture is considered an expense, so the state counts this money as revenue we spend per student.

This is extremely disingenuous and misleading. Our net spending per weighted student was $6324, or $309 below the state average (a gap of over $3 million). BISD’s expenditure per actual student was $7500 vs a state average of $9100. Since 2006 we have paid $108 million in recapture, or enough to build two elementary schools and one middle school.

Last October, BISD’s Board of Trustees adopted legislative priorities for the 2019 session to increase transparency and equity:

• Transparency - Recapture should be shifted from an expense item to a Contra Revenue Account. This accounting change would show how much districts actually spend per student.

We also recommend creating a separate line item in each taxpayer’s bill that shows the portion of the school tax captured by the state. In BISD, the average homeowner pays about $550 that is taken from us for redistribution.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione and Sen. Kel Seliger have submitted House Bill 569/Senate Bill 328 which addresses this issue and is deserving of our support!

• Transportation Allotment– Property wealthy districts do not receive any state aid for transportation. BISD (365 square miles) transports over 5000 students daily and travels one million miles annually. Smaller sized “poor” districts like Edgewood receive transportation aid and drive their athletes around in $300,000 coach buses with leather seats and bathrooms.

Fortunately, the commission recommended that Chapter 41 districts receive the transportation allotment. This would allow Boerne to transfer more money into the classroom, where it belongs.

• Eliminate the Cost of Education Index (CEI) – The state spends $3 billion annually on the CEI, which was designed to give extra support to districts with high costs of educating students. The CEI hasn’t been updated in 30 years, and Boerne is certainly a very different community than it was in 1989.

Our CEI is below the state average, reducing our revenue. Realizing the difficulty of updating the CEI, the commission recommended using this $3 billion to increase the Basic Allotment guaranteed to each child in the state. Increasing the Basic Allotment would reduce the recapture that districts like Boerne pay.

• Fast Growth Districts – Texas’ 75 fast growth districts represent 7.3 percent of the state’s total yet produce 80 percent of all new students. Unlike property poor districts, fast growth districts that pay recapture receive no state funding for new facilities.

We recommend that Chapter 41 districts be included in the New Instructional Facilities Allotment, which helps pay for increased operational costs for the first two years of a new school.

In future columns we will share updates on legislative activity. Thankfully this year the legislature appears committed to improving the school finance system. Let’s hope they reduce its absurd complexity and true equity is realized, with increased emphasis on accountability and improved educational results.