- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

DALLAS — Texas’ “Robin Hood” system of funding public schools — under attack from its inception a decade ago — has apparently reached the end of the line.

With Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature for the first time in 130 years as well as every statewide office, the $26 billion school-funding plan is under serious threat.

Called “Robin Hood” because it literally siphons funds from wealthy school districts and diverts them to poor schools, the plan has been anathema to many since it was signed into law by Ann Richards, the state’s last Democratic governor, in June of 1993.

Gov. Rick Perry and most Republicans have remained strongly opposed to it, and it seems only a matter of time until the legislature formulates a new plan.

Many expect that Mr. Perry will be forced to call a special session of the state legislature to deal with it later this year. The current session winds up June 2.

A strong opinion issued Thursday by the Texas Supreme Court revived a case tossed aside by lower courts that, in effect, told state district courts the case had enough merit to be tried.

The plaintiffs in this case — four wealthy districts — contend that a state property tax had, in effect, been created to fund Robin Hood, because the four districts (and 106 others) have been forced to raise property taxes at or near the legal limit. The Texas Constitution specifically bans a state property tax.

The state has imposed a school-tax limit of $1.50 per $100 property valuation on districts. About 400 of the state’s 1,000-plus districts are near or at the peak of $1.50.

Lawyers for the state testified in oral arguments before the state’s high court in March that not enough districts were actually at the peak tax mark — certainly not enough to create what amounts to a statewide property tax.

They also suggested that many of the suing districts had not proven they must charge the legal limit, or near it, because that is the amount required to provide “basic” education to students.

Thursday’s decision was not a surprise to many in Austin, though the same court in January 1995 upheld Robin Hood.

“While it was not unexpected,” said House Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, a Republican from Arlington, “it in no way lessons our need to deal with the impending crisis. We have to deal with this problem — and the sooner the better.”

House Speaker Tom Craddick, Republican from Midland, concurred.

“Robin Hood was never considered to be a final solution,” he said, “and it must be replaced with a better, fairer system.”

The speaker has named a committee to study the school-finance issue and to recommend to lawmakers a more acceptable approach, in time for the expected special session.

Mr. Perry called Thursday’s ruling “a signal that the days of Robin Hood in Texas are clearly numbered.” He said it could take several years to wind through the legal system.

“My goal,” said the governor, “is to create a comprehensive system that will appropriately fund public education and eliminate Robin Hood while also addressing the other components of education reform, including student enrollment increases, efficiencies, accountability and performance.”

“It’s a victory for every schoolchild in the state,” said John Connolly, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, “because it gives us an opportunity to plead our case in district court.”

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