February 15, 2003
Rural schools fear Robin Hood reform

School funding in Texas is done from a combination of local property taxes and state funds. It's roughly a 50-50 mix, though right now the state's share is at a low point. In the early 90s, after the inequities of this system were declared unconstitutional, a plan was put into place that shifted funds from richer districts to poorer ones. This was known as the "Robin Hood" plan. Though it has helped to level the playing field somewhat, it has been largely unpopular, especially with those richer districts, and is under another court challenge. Many state legislators ran for office in 2002 pledging to change the school funding system.

A bill by Rep. Kent Gruesendorf (R, Arlington) to eliminate the Robin Hood plan by 2005 has passed out of committee even though it does not mention what the alternative would be. Governor Perry supports this effort, though the only contribution he's made to solving the problem has been to suggest yet another commission to study school financing.

All of this has generated the usual amount of skepticism. The first actual sign that this train may get derailed comes from this story, which suggests that Republican lawmakers from rural districts fear that any such reform will shortchange their constituents.

Texas' 700 rural schools are not all property-poor, but they get equalizing funding under the current system because they are so small, and in some cases, remote.

They fear the elimination of that advantage and worry that any new system would force the districts to consolidate, an unpopular idea in rural areas.

"We would lose all that we've gained and have to start all over, and we're worried about what could happen in an urban Legislature," said Don Rogers of the Texas Association of Rural Schools.

Together, the rural and urban lawmakers have enough power and votes in the 150-member House to slow down a bill to repeal Robin Hood by 2005.

Until now, it had been flying through the legislative process. The bill by House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, offers no alternative plan.

I'm a bit skeptical of this story, since it never actually mentions any Republican lawmakers who may oppose Robin Hood reform. Still, it's not hard to see why rural legislators might not view reform as favorably as those from the wealthy suburbs.

Some want promises that any new system won't force small and rural schools to consolidate, an idea pushed by some urban and suburban lawmakers who believe it would save the state money.

Rogers said in most rural areas, the schools are the center of the community and often the largest employer.

The cost of building a central school and transporting students there would offset savings, he said.

Rep. Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, agreed. "When you consolidate schools, you ruin communities," he said.

Laney, the former House speaker, had been influencial in stopping previous pushes for consolidation, Rogers said.

Let's be blunt here: "Consolidation" means throwing some number of people out of work, an idea that's never popular. I'm even more skeptical of the notion that this would be a net money saver.

I do think a school finance reform bill will at least come up for a vote, but I'll be surprised if Gruesendorf's bill reaches the governor's desk as is. There are too many questions left unanswered for it to pass in its present form. Despite the pressure that many first-term reps are under to Do Something, I think a compromise of some kind will have to be reached first. Stay tuned.

(This post also appears on the Political State Report.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 15, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

The small schools are the centers of many small communities and what keeps those communities alive. That may seem unimportant to many but keeping the rural areas of Texas populated is an important task. Spain owned Texas for 300 years. Do you know what Spain's biggest problem with Texas was? She could not get enough people to live here (in Texas) to hold Texas. Mexico owned Texas for 15 years. Do you know what Mexico's biggest problem with Texas was? She could not get enough people to live here to hold Texas. Maribeau Lamar was the third president of the Republic of Texas. In order to get people to move into the western parts of Texas, onto the frontier, ( at that time the western frontier was about where I 35 is now) he moved the state capital way out to the western edge of civilization, to Austin. That was a bold move. We need to support our rural areas of Texas and keep them alive and populated. Keeping our small rural schools open is an excellent way of doing this. It is good for the children, good for the people, good for the communities, and good for the state of Texas.

Posted by: Bill Bacon on March 4, 2004 3:57 PM

I am looking for the list of schools that the robin hood plan contributes to.

Posted by: Pam on April 27, 2004 1:05 PM

I believe that the poor school is lot better off than before. We need to provide our childrens with the state of art education. Instead of putting so much money in district office and pay high salary to administrator. We need to give our teacher the pay raise they deserved. They are on the front line taking care of our childrens. If they get burn out our kids lose. I have a son that went to Judson High School and graduated. But he can only read to 4 grade level. Tell me how this could happen. We need provied our kids with the best education possible. We need to pepare them for college. Where they dont have to take remidial class. I believe richer district should
help the poor district. Because all american deserve a good education not on the rich.

Posted by: shelia love on October 18, 2006 8:42 AM