‘Robin Hood’ Still Alive After Texas Special Session

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Texas leaders are united in wanting to scrap the state’s "Robin Hood" school finance scheme—they just can’t agree on what will replace it.

The Texas legislature’s special session on school finance ended last week with Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders promising to return when they’ve developed a consensus on how to overhaul the way the state finances its schools.

"We want to move forward to take advantage of the momentum we’ve achieved over the past three and a half weeks," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican and president of the state Senate, said at a press conference announcing the end of the session.

"It would have been a nice coup to have solved this in one 30-day session," Gov. Perry, a Republican, said at the same May 17 event. "The chances of doing that were probably slim at best."

Mr. Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, also a Republican, have appointed two working groups to seek a consensus on how to raise the money needed to replace reduced property taxes. One of those groups also will propose accountability policies and other measures that would be expected of schools in exchange for increased funding.

The three leaders hope to resolve the questions before late August. By meeting that deadline, the state could propose changes to the Texas Constitution on the November ballot.

"We have time to get it done and get something on the ballot," Mr. Perry said.

First Try

At the May 17 news conference, all three leaders said they had the same priorities: cutting property taxes, maintaining funding for schools, keeping a competitive climate for business, and "ending Robin Hood as we know it," according to Mr. Dewhurst.

Under the Robin Hood plan, property- tax revenues from property-rich areas are diverted to poor areas. The state created the system in 1994 to comply with a state supreme court decision declaring the state’s previous school finance plan unconstitutional because it didn’t spread money equitably among districts.

Despite their unanimous agreement on their goals, the three leaders haven’t been able to broker a deal to reach those goals.

At the start of the session, the House unanimously rejected Mr. Perry’s plan to replace lost property-tax money with gaming revenue. The House later passed a bill that failed to raise enough money to keep school funding at its current levels.

House leaders acknowledged that they were hoping to negotiate a better solution with the Senate. ("‘Robin Hood’ On Ropes in Texas School Aid Tilt," May 12, 2004.)

But the Senate couldn’t agree on ways to raise new revenue either.

"This is an incredibly difficult, complex issue," Mr. Perry said. "This session was worth having because it clarified the debate."

While the focus of the debate has been on money, the ultimate solution is almost certain to encompass accountability and teacher pay.

Of the two working groups started by Mr. Dewhurst and Mr. Craddick, one will seek financing solutions and the other will define the accountability measures the legislature will expect from schools under the new system.

The bill the Senate considered in the waning days of the session also included a pay-for-performance plan for educators. That proposal led to vocal opposition from the Texas Federation of Teachers, which already opposed the bill because it would not have provided equitable funding for schools.

"Imposing a ‘bonuses for test scores’ compensation plan ... would disrupt educational teamwork and leave most teachers and school employees empty-handed," the 50,000-member affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers wrote in a legislative alert to its members.

Vol. 23, Issue 38, Page 17

Published in Print: May 26, 2004, as ‘Robin Hood’ Still Alive After Texas Special Session
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