Texas-Style Monopoly

By David J. Hoff — April 11, 2006 1 min read

Landing on Boardwalk with a hotel on it is something like paying $50 million in local property taxes to the state of Texas—at least for those playing a new board game.

To teach the public—and maybe even state lawmakers—about the intricacies of financing Texas schools, a Dallas-area district has created a game called Balancing Act, which challenges players to budget their money to make it through the school year without running a deficit.

Players start the game with enough money to pay the district’s expenses for a year. While moving across the board, they must pay regular expenses, such as salaries and the revenue the Lone Star State reclaims from wealthy districts to equalize school funding.

While players face unexpected costs, such as repairing storm-damaged buildings, they can also receive proceeds from a sharp increase in property values.

Officials of the Richardson Independent School District dreamed up the game to show members of the public the challenge of managing the district’s $250 million annual operating budget.

“It helps them understand the complicated process of the money coming in and the money going out,” said Jeanne Guerra, the communications director for the 35,500-student district, which encompasses northern Dallas and the inner suburb of Richardson.

Ms. Guerra and her staff developed the game and are talking with statewide groups about producing copies for distribution.

The game also is helpful for state lawmakers as they figure out how to rework the way Texas finances schools, Ms. Guerra added.

Under the current setup, referred to as the Robin Hood plan, Texas collects property taxes from wealthy districts to be redistributed to poor districts.

In a decision last November, the Texas Supreme Court said the Robin Hood process violated the state’s constitutional ban on a statewide property tax. The legislature is scheduled to convene a special session next week to craft a new system by the July 1 deadline set by the court.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2006 edition of Education Week