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Education News

Texas Education Commissioner Sends HISD Notice for Detachment, District Prepares to Lobby

When voters rejected Proposition 1, they didn’t cancel HISD’s debt to the state. They just rejected the most common way wealthy districts pay it. HISD still owes millions to the Texas school finance system.

Biology students work on a project at Reagan High School, September 16, 2014.
HISD
Biology students work on a project at Reagan High School, September 16, 2014.

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After the no vote on Proposition 1, the Houston Independent School District got a letter from the state.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told HISD that he'll take away $18 billion in commercial property from its tax base. Think downtown office buildings.

They'll go to another poor school district and get taxed at a higher rate. Those taxes would yield the $162 million that HISD still owes, under the school finance system known as “recapture” or “Robin Hood.”

Morath didn't give an exact timeline, though one state manual indicates a July deadline.

This is called detachment. It's one of the biggest potential repercussions from the proposition's defeat.

That’s because when voters rejected Proposition 1, they didn't cancel HISD’s debt to the state. They just rejected the most common way wealthy districts pay it. HISD still owes millions to the Texas school finance system.

“So I see this is as a very troubling situation for the growth and economy for the city of Houston,” said HISD Board President Manuel Rodriguez. He said that now the district will lobby in Austin to untangle HISD from recapture and avoid detachment.

“All options are open right now. Again this is unprecedented,” Rodriguez said about possible lobbying action.

Rodriguez said that they could try to change the whole school finance system – or part of it so HISD isn't on the hook for sharing its money. That's technically called "recapture" or "Robin Hood," where property-wealthy school districts have to share revenue with the state to supplement education funding in property-poor school districts.

Former lawmaker Scott Hochberg said that other districts have a stake in what happens. Neighboring areas like Aldine and Alief have their own funding challenges. They don't have as much property wealth as HISD – like downtown skyscrapers – and also teach needy children.

“I would hope that HISD doesn't do something that may help HISD and may help its taxpayers, but throws the rest of the school districts in the area under the school bus,” Hochberg said.

Again, if there is no legislative fix, HISD is on track to lose some of its own property to pay off its debt to the state.

“That's incredibly unfortunate because Houston had a say in this,” said David Hinojosa, the national policy director at the advocacy group IDRA. “They could have done like 330-plus other school districts across Texas have done and shared their property wealth and then shifted gears to doing work to change the legislation.”

Hinojosa said that he believes the proposition failed because there was a lot misinformation about what the vote meant.

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