Since the latter half of 2016, Houston Independent School District has been looking at having to send funds to the state as part of Texas’ controversial “Robin Hood” school funding scheme. However, the arrival of Hurricane Harvey could allow the district to keep some, or even all, of its recapture payments.
Despite the fact that 76 percent of HISD students fall below the poverty line, the district is considered “property rich” under state law and must come up with funding which the state can redistribute to districts considered “property poor.” HISD has already payed the state $77.5 million this year, and could be forced to shell out another $60 million later this year if they lose a pending lawsuit.
The law bodes to be more painful for HISD in the future. The district will owe the state $268 million next year – money the board carved out of the fiscal year 2017-18 budget.
However, David Thompson, an attorney for HISD’s Board of Education, found a state law that would let HISD keep a significant amount of the money it owes the state. The law was passed in 2009 in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and states that school districts within officially designated disaster areas can take the money they would normally be forced to pay under Robin Hood and use it in the recovery effort to fund expenses that Federal Emergency Management Agency insurance will not cover.
Harris County was included in a State of Disaster declaration by Texas Governor Greg Abbott during Harvey, which Thompson says makes HISD eligible under the law.
Much of HISD was devastated by the storm, which flooded several schools. Although the total cost of damages caused by Harvey was originally estimated to be approximately $700 million, the district now believes the sum will actually be much lower. Upon further examination, some campuses turned out to be not as badly damaged as had been originally feared.
Thompson believes HISD will be spared from paying a significant amount of the 2017-18 recapture payment, but not all of it.
While HISD could get a break in the short term because of Harvey, in the future the district is going to have to do a better job managing its finances in order to accommodate Robin Hood. Ultimately, the problem will likely have to wait until at least 2019, when it could be solved legislatively in the next session of the state legislature.