Houston voters may get a second chance on a major school finance payment, potentially avoiding an $18 billion loss in commercial property for the state’s largest school district.
At their monthly meeting Thursday, trustees for the Houston Independent School Board will consider putting recapture back on the ballot.
In the Texas school finance system, property-wealthy school districts have to share local revenue with the state, which then shares it with property-poor districts. It’s known as recapture, or Robin Hood, and has been a key part of the finance system since the 1990s. Lawmakers created it after the Texas Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional and unfair for poor schools.
In November, HISD voters rejected the traditional way to send a check to the state. Now HISD must pay with actual commercial property – almost $18 billion worth. In July, Education Commissioner Mike Morath is scheduled to detach that property and let another district, such as Alief or Aldine ISD, tax it instead. That’s known as detachment and will reduce HISD’s tax base.
“The only way we can be in this negotiation period is if we do not go into detachment,” HISD Board President Wanda Adams said.
“The homeowners are going to take the brunt of that, not the commercial properties, the homeowners. Right now it’s not a win-win for anyone, but right now at least we have them moving,” she added.
That’s why HISD may give voters another shot at the issue in May.
At the same time, HISD’s bill to the state has dropped by $55-60 million, according to state estimates. That’s more than a 30 percent drop from the original bill of $162 million.
The Texas Education Agency changed how it calculates recapture payments. It will give wealthy school districts like Houston a break whenever those districts give homesteaders a break. HISD trustees recently lobbied for that credit in a recent trip to Austin.
“I believe that that’s a victory for HISD because now everyone is talking about funding public education and they know that it needs to be fixed,” Adams said.