Spring Branch ISD has taken a stand against the state’s chronic underfunding of our public schools; this month, its school board voted unanimously to withhold the recapture payment the state requires of property-wealthy school districts. While this move could result in state penalties, Spring Branch ISD officials have made a compelling case for why their district and others should not be sending money to the state when it has a $33 billion surplus and provided no new money for schools in the last regular legislative session.
Initially, recapture, sometimes called “Robin Hood,” was intended to recapture local revenue collected by local school districts that exceeds a certain level, set in state law. Those dollars collected by the state from these wealthy districts were supposed to be sent to lower-income school districts to supplement their insufficient funding, increasing equity statewide.
Due to the chronic underfunding by the state, however, school districts that were once deemed wealthy are now struggling to keep up with basic services due to inflation and ever-increasing unfunded state mandates. If these so-called wealthy districts are struggling, then so is every other district in Texas.
Spring Branch ISD officials argue that the current school funding formula is outdated and does not properly account for the students they serve, 60% of whom are economically disadvantaged. Under the current system, districts like Spring Branch could see significant increases in property tax revenue but would not be able to keep any of it.
In addition, the $4 billion in recaptured funds are no longer used for their intended purpose. The almost $4 billion annual statewide recapture total, paid by over 160 “property-wealthy” school districts, no longer goes to help low-income public schools around the state but instead goes to the charter school industry.
Due to the rapid growth of charter schools, which triggers recapture when local districts lose students and their wealth per-pupil increases, that $4 billion recapture total now almost mirrors what the state sends to charters. Charter don’t have elected school boards and are funded entirely by state dollars, which currently amounts to approximately $4 billion per year. In other words, the entirety of the local tax dollars that are recaptured throughout the state all goes to charter schools, which produce no shortage of financial improprieties and self-dealing scandals but yet do not produce better student outcomes.
Though the state provided no new funding for public schools this legislative session, it piled more unfunded mandates on local school districts, including new school safety requirements. These new unfunded mandates have been heaped on top of the state funding gap for special education services that local districts must absorb, a whopping $2.3 billion per year that the state should be paying.
We applaud Spring Branch and other districts that are speaking out against the outdated formulas and the state’s chronic neglect of our public schools. We look forward to fighting alongside the entire education community to make the formulas more equitable and to get Texas school funding up to the national average in a special session.