MALDEF files suit over change to recapture

This is a twist.

Texas education officials illegally changed how property taxes are calculated in wealthy school districts, with the effect of substantially reducing the funds available for schools in poorer districts, a lawsuit filed Thursday charged.

The change would cost the state’s poorer schools districts and their students approximately $440 million per year or $880 million for the two-year funding cycle, according to the lawsuit filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the law firms Gray & Becker, P.C. and Ray & Wood, on behalf of Le Feria and Joaquin Independent School Districts.

The La Feria Independent School District in Cameron County and the Joaquin Independent School District in Shelby County want the court to permanently block the newly amended rule adopted February 1, calling it invalid and unenforceable.

“Breaking the rules to once again benefit property-wealthy districts to the detriment of our property-poor districts is not the fix we need for our broken public school system,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest regional counsel. “We look forward to vindicating in court our clients’ efforts to ensure fair funding for all students.”

Texas’ system of “recapture” requires wealthier school districts with more valuable property to send some of their tax funds to the state to help fund poorer districts. Those funds are then administered through the Foundation School Program.

The recapture formula assesses the contributions of wealthier districts based on the full value of each property. But those districts may provide two types of tax deductions to residents. The first is a mandated $25,000 homestead exemption. The second deduction allows districts the option of granting an additional homeowners exemption of up to 20 percent of a home’s value, known as a local optional homestead exemption (“LOHE”).

State law allows some wealthy districts to reduce their contributions to recapture and the Foundation School Program by recognizing the LOHE-reduced property values. However, state law provided clear conditions to ensure that poor districts aren’t underfunded. Those conditions required that either state lawmakers appropriate more funding, or that there be a surplus in the Foundation School Program. Until recently, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) interpreted the law to apply only when those conditions were met.

But in February, state education officials issued a statement changing its longstanding rule. Lawyers for the two plaintiff school districts argue that education officials illegally bypassed the existing rule, allowing certain wealthy districts with LOHE’s to reduce their contribution to recapture, without appropriating funds to fill the gap.

“The Education Code provides that the mission of the public education system of this state is to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education,” said Richard Gray of Gray & Becker, P.C. “The recent actions of the Commissioner work squarely against that mission and will result in funding flowing only to students in certain property-wealthy districts of TEA’s choosing while at the same time cutting funding to other districts. It is estimated that the recent actions of the Commissioner could cost close to one billion dollars for the 2018-2019 school year and that cost will only increase in future years.”

Under the new rule, La Feria ISD will lose over $225,000 per year, or $1,435 per classroom a year. Joaquin ISD will lose over $48,000 per year, or $1,548 per classroom. These financial losses are reflective of the financial loss that many property-poor school districts throughout the state will incur as a result of the new rule.

The lawsuit comes as state lawmakers debate how Texas will finance public education for the more than 5 million students currently enrolled in schools across the state. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May last year that while the state’s school finance system met “minimal constitutional requirements,” it needed comprehensive reform.

Read the lawsuit here.

This would of course affect HISD, though MALDEF did not mention them by name in that release. KUHF has the only news coverage of this I’ve seen so far.

HISD is not a party in the lawsuit, but said in a statement that it believes the commissioner’s decision was legal and will monitor the case and “is prepared to intervene if necessary to protect the interests of our students and taxpayers.”

At the very least, this puts a bit of uncertainty into the May 6 recapture re-vote, which the HISD Board is trying to sell to voters. One possible way to satisfy the conditions MALDEF is suing over is for the Lege to make up the difference to the school districts that are affected by the re-interpretation of the recapture rules. Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB21 might be able to do this, in an amended form if need be. I don’t know how likely that is to happen, but it’s a possibility. There are a lot of ways this can go, so we’ll have to wait to see what the defendants, the Lege, and the courts do.

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in Legal matters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to MALDEF files suit over change to recapture

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Too funny……the Mexican activist group wants to stiff Mexican kids in HISD to redistribute the money to OTHER Mexican kids in other districts. Hey MALDEF: Why do you hate Houston area Mexican kids?

  2. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Bill you are one of the most bigoted person to comment online. Mexican kids?

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Uh, cluephone Neither. It’s for you.


    MEXICAN American Legal Defense Fund

    Are you telling me MALDEF is out suing the state on behalf of a bunch of Asian kids, black kids, or white kids? MALDEF is suing on behalf of Mexican kids from rural districts, and the kids that will be effected are…….Mexican kids from HISD. That’s what we call irony.

  4. Neither Here Nor There says:

    I can’t argue with stupid, but I will try. What ever the name of the organization’s name, the vast majority of the students are from poor districts and they are American, not Mexicans. I wonder if the White Trash Legal Defense did anything if they would be representing people like you? Just wondering since that seems to be your logic.

  5. Bill Daniels says:


    If the kids from those border districts are born to Mexican parents, regardless of their immigration status, they are, by birthright, Mexicans. If they were born here, they yes, they would also be American citizens. But now that we have semantics out of the way, I’ll again point you to the obvious. MALDEF. Note it wasn’t LULAC that sued. Heck, it wasn’t even La Raza (the race) that sued, it was MALDEF.

    When’s the last time MALDEF sued on behalf of the Robert M. Beren Academy or the Shlenker School? When’s the last time they sued on behalf of Kendleton ISD, or sued on behalf of North Forest ISD? When’s the last time they sued on behalf of Tomball ISD?

    They are suing on behalf of school districts that are heavily Latino, and of those Latinos, heavily Mexican, because that’s their affinity group…..Mexicans. They don’t think they are being bigoted by doing that. They also don’t see the irony in filing a suit that would hurt HISD, also a heavily Latino district, of which the majority of Latinos enrolled are Mexican by birthright, or by heritage.

    As far as I know, there is no white trash legal defense fund. I do wonder, though, if you have some kind of self loathing thing going on….you see a reference to the word Mexican and you feel compelled to lash out. Mexican isn’t a slur, it’s a descriptor.

  6. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Like I said Bill one can’t argue with stupid. But I will give it one more try, what country did your ancestors come from Bill? Just wondering what percentage American you are.

    If your ignorance was not so great you would know that many of those families that live on the border have been here before this country became a nation, some of them have been here before the Pilgrims fled rather than to fight to change the country they came from.

    If your ignorance was not great you would know that many of those that died at the Alamo were “Illegals”.

    Bill you hate anything that even suggests it came from Mexico, don’t know why so much hate but hate kills the person that carries it. Think on that.

  7. David Siegel says:

    If the Lege had $880 million it wanted to put into public education, wouldn’t it be better to spend it on the basic allotment, which would increase revenue for all districts (including reducing recapture for HISD) or increasing the extra money spent for low-income and English Language Learners, helping those kids everywhere (and reducing recapture for HISD). Why waste it all on a regressive tax break that gives the biggest benefit to folks with the most expensive homes?

    In any case, voters would be much better off voting to send a check to the state rather than having the most expensive property permanently detached to be taxed at a higher rate by some other school district, leaving the rest of us to pay higher debt payment taxes.

Comments are closed.