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The problem with recapture

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 9/06/2023 | Author: Christy Rome, Texas School Coalition

A note from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Monty Exter: Last week, a school district other than Houston ISD made headlines in the Houston area—this time not for actions resulting from a state takeover but instead for an act of defiance toward the state. The school board in the district, considered by the state school finance system to be property wealthy, voted to ban district staff from sending the state more than $200 million in recapture. The board members cited the state’s failure to ensure that the school finance system, including recapture, adequately sets funding at the level districts, including their own, need to be able to run schools. In the guest post below, Christy Rome of the Texas School Coalition tells us a little more about recapture.  

The Texas school finance system has a unique aspect to it that state leaders call “recapture,” but many communities refer to it as “Robin Hood” because that legendary figure stole from the rich to give to the poor.  The method of equalizing wealth between property-wealthy and property-poor school districts in Texas is an epic tale all of its own, following multiple court rulings and legislative and legal battles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. To equalize funding amongst districts, those districts with wealth and tax collections above the level the state says they are entitled to keep must send that “excess” money back to the State of Texas through recapture, and those funds are—in theory—redistributed to other schools. 

Understandably, this has never been a popular concept among those sending tax dollars to the state and away from their local school districts. Still, at one time, the districts subject to recapture could at least feel good about doing their part to help others. However, now the system is structured in such a way that those recapture dollars do not provide other schools any more money—instead, the state just doesn’t have to foot as much of the bill.   

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature approved $18 billion in property tax relief. Because of that legislative action, recapture will decrease 41% statewide. That’s significant. It might seem like schools should be celebrating such a large and meaningful reduction—except they are not. The reduction in recapture, and in tax rates, is something taxpayers may celebrate, but legislators only did half of their homework assignment. They helped taxpayers, but they didn’t help schools.   

Whether a school sends or receives recapture dollars makes little difference—no school district has the dollars it needs to properly serve students at this time. Property-poor districts are frustrated by the fact that they don’t have the resources they need to pay teachers and other staff the salaries and wages they deserve. Property-wealthy schools are equally frustrated for the same reason—but the difference is that property-wealthy districts are often collecting the money they need in local property taxes, only to see those dollars go directly to the State of Texas instead of to the very real needs they see in their local schools. As those unmet needs continue to increase, it is more and more difficult to watch those dollars go elsewhere and know that they are not being used to increase funding for others experiencing the same drought of resources. 

Whether the cause of your school district’s insufficient funding is a lack of dollars from the state or the burden of recapture that prevents schools from keeping the funding they need, the problem in the end remains the same: Texas schools do not have the dollars required to do the job they are being asked to do.   


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