For nearly 30 years Texas has been fighting about public school funding. The battle has been in the courtroom almost continuously since 1984 when the courts mandated what they saw as a more equitable funding system for school districts across the state.
The state dedicates a tiny portion of the state sales tax and all proceeds from the lottery to public education (Texas does not have a state income tax). However, the bulk of the funding for education comes from local property taxes. It is here where the difficulties arise.
Some property-wealthy districts, generally in cities and industrial areas, have large amounts of property taxes coming in, even if incomes in the area are not high. Schools in rural areas tend to have much smaller tax bases. In 1993, in response to a lawsuit, the courts implemented what is called the “Robin Hood Plan” where property tax monies are recaptured from those wealthy districts and given to the poorer districts to equalize funding across the state. The goal was to prohibit wealthy districts from being able to raise revenue to provide benefits to students that poorer districts cannot afford.
The plan was modified slightly in 2005 and 2011. Still today, some argue the plan does not go far enough in supporting the poorer districts and penalizing the wealthier ones. Others argue that local residents should be allowed to decide how much they are willing to invest in their schools.
Another issue being argued is who should decide how funding will be handled. Some argue the courts should have that role. Others say the Texas constitution gives that right only to the legislature and the courts are over-stepping their boundaries by interfering. At any rate, the issue is once again in front of the Texas Supreme Court and arguments were heard yesterday (9-1-2015). A decision is still months away.