Education News

Hoping To Keep $18 Billion In Commercial Property, HISD Plots Political Plan for School Finance

“Our district and the business community have a lot at stake, and it’s no joke.” -Ashlea Graves, who directs governmental relations with HISD.

There was a strong campaign against Proposition 1 in HISD, against sending tax dollars from the district to the state, under the so-called "Robin Hood" program.
There was a strong campaign against Proposition 1 in HISD, against sending tax dollars from the district to the state, under the so-called “Robin Hood” program. Because Proposition 1 failed, HISD faces losing commercial property to pay off its debt to the state.

In the next legislative session, the Houston Independent School District will wage a political battle worth at least $18 billion.

The fight has emerged because Texas considers Houston a rich district and requires it to share money, in what’s known as “recapture” or “Robin Hood.”

But this fall, voters rejected the most common way to pay that.

“We have set ourselves apart with our stance and our city’s vote on recapture, and we have a heavy load to carry this session,” HISD Trustee Anna Eastman said at the board’s meeting in December.

That’s because if lawmakers don’t change school finance, Texas will take $18 billion worth of commercial, non-residential property away from HISD to pay off the bill. The education commissioner will let another property-poor school district tax it instead.

“Our district and the business community have a lot at stake, and it’s no joke,” said Ashlea Graves, who directs governmental relations with HISD.

The district is trying to avoid that with its new legislative agenda. Graves said that they have three top priorities when it comes to school finance:

  1. A local homestead exemption: She said that school districts like HISD could get some credit in the finance formula for property that they don’t tax under the homestead exemption. This could save HISD about $60 million in recapture money.
  2. Restore transportation money: HISD loses the state’s transportation funding just like every other property-wealthy district that pays into recapture. For HISD, it’s worth $12 million.
  3. Count kids in full-day pre-kindergarten: Currently when Texas calculates the recapture bill, it doesn’t count these students as full-day. Graves said that this would reduce the bill by about $39 million.

If passed, these strategies would reduce HISD’s debt by about a $100 million. But they won’t erase it entirely.

“The biggest overarching  problem with this is that the state needs to reduce its over-reliance on local property taxes and replace some of that money with its own general revenue,” Graves said.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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