Dear Highland Park ISD Parents & Faculty,
We were all encouraged by today's news that State District Judge John Dietz ruled that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund its education system. While we fully expect the ruling to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, this represents an important first step for the school children of Texas.
We've all known for years that the school finance system is broken. Judge Dietz's ruling supported that sentiment, as detailed in an announcement by the Texas School Coalition, which represents Highland Park ISD, along with 123 other revenue-contributing districts.
The following Q&A provides you with additional information:
Q: What did the ruling address?
A: The Court ruled on three specific issues, as detailed below:
- Inadequate funding: The court ruled that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to adequately fund education. This problem was exacerbated by $5.4 billion in cuts from the 2011 Legislature, even as more rigorous graduation standards and an increase in mandatory state testing were introduced. As a result, districts do not have the local discretion to offer educational programs that make sense for their students and their communities.
- State property tax: The court ruled that the current school finance system creates an unconstitutional statewide property tax.
- Equity and efficiency: The court ruled that the state's system is inequitable and inefficient.
Q. Does this ruling mean the end of "Robin Hood," the state's practice of recapturing locally collected tax dollars and redistributing them to other school districts in an effort to achieve equity?
A. Recapture or "Robin Hood" was not directly challenged in this lawsuit, because the Supreme Court had declared it constitutional in 1995. But in a 2005 opinion, the court noted the state's increasing reliance on recaptured funds, which is a function of its increasing overreliance on local property taxes to fund the system. Robin Hood remains alive and well because as long as we have any significant portion of school funding derived from local property taxes, recapture will be necessary to meet the equity mandate in the Texas Constitution (as interpreted by the Supreme Court).
Q: Is there an immediate impact on HPISD's tax rate or recapture rate?
A: No. We will continue to operate under current law. This year, HPISD will be required to send 68 percent of its locally collected tax dollars to Austin for redistribution. Since Robin Hood began, more than $1 billion in HPISD taxpayer dollars have been recaptured. As long as the state significantly relies on local property taxes to fund public education, Robin Hood will live on in some form or another.
Q: What happens next?
A: The state is almost certain to appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court. According to our attorneys, the Supreme Court ruling is expected in April of 2014. In the meantime, the Legislature is in session, and the state is reporting a budget surplus.
In conclusion, we are hopeful that today's court decision sends a clear message to the legislature to take the necessary steps to correct its past actions and policies. We thank all the members of this fine community for their steadfast support and determination to make their voices heard at the state level. You are making a difference for the future of our children.
Dr. Dawson Orr
Superintendent of Schools
Highland Park ISD