Hays County school districts, like many across the state, are struggling to provide improvements and services without the sale of bonds.
However, a lack of state funding, along with a heavy reliance on property tax revenue, is limiting funds and creating problems.
Those reasons are leading several Hays County school officials to join a growing movement advocating for changes in Texas’ education finance system.
Chapter 41 of the Texas Education Code (TEC) makes provisions for school districts in property wealthy areas to share part of its tax revenue with other school districts with lower appraised property values. The system, known as recapture, or the “Robin Hood” plan, is calculated by taking the appraised value of a home in a school district and dividing that by the number of students in weighted average daily attendance.
Currently, Dripping Springs ISD is the only district in Hays County paying into the recapture system.
According to the DSISD budget, Dripping Springs will pay $8.9 million to the state for the 2018-19 school year as part of recapture.
However, according to an April 2018 report by the National Education Association, Texas spent $10,952 per student enrolled in public schools in 2017, which was $2,000 less than the national average.
“It’s no secret that funding for public education in the state of Texas is fundamentally broken,” said Bruce Gearing, DSISD superintendent. “One of the biggest issues is recapture. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in equity of funding, it just means that it hurts us. We will be advocating for those changes during the next legislative session.”
Gearing said the DSISD Board of Trustees will adopt a legislative advocacy agenda, though the official positions of the board have not yet been drafted.
In 2017, Gearing, along with the Dripping Springs ISD board of trustees, wrote a letter during the 85th Texas Legislature in support of House Bill 21. That proposed bill called for $1.8 billion in new funding for public schools and featured reforms to the state’s education finance system.
According to a 2017 Texas Tribune report, lawmakers cut $1.5 billion from HB21 and expunged many of the reforms within the original bill; the pared down version of HB21 was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June 2017.
“Dripping Springs is considered property wealthy, but it is still difficult to explain to our taxpayers that we are sending money to the state every year that will be utilized elsewhere,” Gearing said. “I believe strongly in local control and we have to have the authority to make sure we are doing everything we can for our students.”
In contrast, Hays CISD is considered a property-poor district under the state’s recapture plan and receives money from other districts as part of the equity system.
However, HCISD officials will be advocating for less reliance on property taxes to drive school funding.
“Right now, the formula does not have a mechanism to account for changes in the cost of living and inflation,” said Annette Folmar, chief financial officer at HCISD. “It’s a seesaw effect. As property taxes go up, state funding goes down. It’s not a sustainable system.”
Folmar said HCISD will also advocate for fewer restrictions on earmarked funds distributed from the state, which she said can limit a district on where and how to spend those dollars.
Every district’s needs are different and the state should allow each district to spend the money where they see fit, Folmar said.
“We take our job very seriously and work hard to develop lifelong learners and students who will contribute to our communities and society past their time in public education,” Gearing said. “We will accomplish that no matter what the funding looks like and we will continue to hire the best people we can to provide the best education we can.”