Senate Approves Plan to Kill "Robin Hood" System of School Funding
Austin - The Senate unanimously approved legislation to reform the school finance system after a full afternoon of debate. The system that has been in place for the past ten years, dubbed Robin Hood due to a recapture provision, was heavily reliant on local property taxes. The proposed Senate legislation to replace Robin Hood, the Committee Substitute to House Bill (HB) 5 and the companion legislation to amend the state Constitution, Committee Substitute to Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 1, would eliminate the school district maintenance and operations tax. The plan was supported by all 31 Senators and applauded by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano, the plan's sponsor, called the proposal "the most equitable system the state has ever known, guaranteeing virtually the same state spending per pupil in all areas of the state in the 90th percentile." Shapiro said that the legislation would provide for school funding at the state level, meanwhile leaving policy-making decisions to the local level.
The Senate's proposed system would create the Texas Education Fund to dedicate revenues to finance the state's public education system. The legislation would slash the state property tax in half and increase the state sales tax and the motor vehicle tax. The sales tax would also be expanded to include services. Health care, physician, hospital, and dental services would be exempted from taxation. Another funding source would come from remaining revenues from the Available School Fund after the purchase of textbooks.
"The proposal includes several measures to ensure fairness, including significant sales tax relief for lowest-income Texans and assurance that low-income renters would receive benefits from property tax reductions," wrote Dewhurst in a letter addressing some concerns of Speaker of the House Tom Craddick.
Due to a hold harmless provision in the legislation, districts are ensured of no loss in total revenue and many districts gain revenue. Under the plan, school districts would be authorized to levy a public education enrichment tax if endorsed by the voters. The tax collected provides additional budget capacity to districts that could be used for the erection and equipment of school buildings.
The Senate's version of HB 5 would also establish a Blue Ribbon Task Force to study adequacy, review practices, and look at academic interests and programs designed to increase graduation rates.
Dewhurst and Shapiro said that they are both optimistic the House will seriously consider the Senate's proposed school finance system.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 7, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.