Whether state lawmakers this session get around to doing anything about the absurdly inequitable school financing system is unlikely. Some lawmakers early on made it clear they had better things to do. The general consensus was that fixing school financing was too hard and required effort and those suffering under the system would have to suffer a couple more years.
But state Rep. Wayne Faircloth deserves praise and recognition for trying to do something now to help local school districts and his constituents.
Faircloth last week introduced a bill that would reduce payments property-rich school districts must make to the state under the Robin Hood funding system.
Faircloth, a rare lawmaker who hasn’t lost his sense of duty to constituents, said:
“I know if we don’t put this in front of people and don’t get it on the radar, it’s not going to change,” Faircloth said. “In order to represent my district and do it well, we need to highlight some of the issues that negatively impact us on a consistent basis.”
We live in an age when too many lawmakers and politicians — Democrats and Republicans — tend to avoid complicated and meaningful issues to focus on button-pushing rhetoric that requires the lowest investment of political capital. It’s a time when lawmakers at all levels digress and distract or respond to arguments by never addressing the argument or by creating problems that aren’t really problems to avoid the real problem.
Faircloth’s House Bill 4087, filed last week, would cut districts’ recapture payments by 25 percent, allowing districts to use the money for their own maintenance and operations costs.
Recapture is part of state legislation created in 1993. Under the law, tax revenue for maintenance and operations from property-wealthy school districts, such as Galveston, is taken and distributed to property-poor school districts.
Texas City and Galveston ISD are both considered property-rich districts, despite large percentages of economically disadvantaged students.
When Galveston was designated property-rich in 2006, the district sent $3 million to the state as part of recapture.
This year, Galveston ISD sent about $19.5 million in recapture payments to the state.
“Ball High School needs over $5 million in repairs and we are sending millions of dollars to other schools across the state,” Faircloth said. “It makes perfect sense to take care of your own property before taking on the needs of others.”
We couldn’t agree with Faircloth more. Faircloth proved he was willing to take on a thorny subject.
Local school district officials and constituents aren’t alone in believing something is terribly wrong with the system.
The Texas Supreme Court in May ruled the way the state funds education is constitutional, but imperfect. The justices implored lawmakers to correct flaws in the system, but stopped short of ordering changes.
Faircloth’s filing, while coming late in the legislative session, was bright news for those urging finance reform.
But other Texas lawmakers have lamented there was no time this session to fix a bad system. There were more pressing things to do.
We can think of few things more pressing than fixing a system that affects millions of Texas students and taxpayers.
It might be too late this session, but Faircloth should be congratulated for trying.
• Laura Elder