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Texas districts spend $5 billion in property taxes to fund other schools

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) — Cynthia Velazquez parks her car outside Central Middle School as she waits for her child to be released from school.

Velazquez said there are a few things that have changed at the school since she graduated from the Galveston Independent School District, but the decades-old building where her child goes could use more improvements.

“I went to this school. I’ve been here all my life, so I was born here and raised here, and I went to all the schools, and they were all good,” Velazquez told 13 Investigates. “They have been upgraded, but it still kind of looks the same.”

Galveston ISD said it could make more updates to schools or even build new ones and give teachers raises if only it could keep all of the millions in property taxes residents pay specifically for education.

In Texas, districts can only keep a certain amount of local property taxes per student. The rest is “recaptured” and sent back to the state.

If a district, like Galveston ISD, collects more than the basic amount it is entitled to per student, they are required to send the extra property tax collections to the state. The state then redistributes those funds to other districts that don’t collect enough in taxes locally to fund their own enrollment.

Advocates say it’s a way to ensure every student receives the same amount of basic funding regardless of where they live.

“Property values across the state vary dramatically from school district to school district, and if we didn’t go in and equalize funding between districts, we’d have some districts that are only able to raise maybe $1,000 (or) $1,500 per student with their tax rate while other districts are able to raise $14,000 (or) $20,000,” said Chandra Villanueva, director of policy and advocacy at Every Texan. “If we didn’t level it off between the two districts, we’d be asking them to offer the same level of education at very different levels of resources.”

This year, Galveston ISD is sending back 43% of the property taxes it collected to the state instead of spending it on public schools in town as part of Recapture, which is also known as the “Robin Hood” plan.

During the first year of Recapture in 1994, only 34 school districts had to pay a combined $131 million to the state for collecting more property taxes than they were entitled to, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Now, 13 Investigates found the amount school districts send back to the state has increased over the years to nearly $2 billion more than what’s needed to make up for districts that don’t collect enough property taxes for their enrollment.

The number of districts considered “property wealthy” has also increased, with more than 260 districts paying into the recapture system.

“When more dollars from recapture or come into the system, that means that the state can put less of its general revenue in to support schools instead,” said Christy Rome, executive director of the Texas School Coalition. “What they do with the general revenue that they’re able to save because they don’t have to use it for schools, we really can’t track and know, so I think that for many schools, they feel like they’re sending in additional dollars through Recapture and Robin Hood, but yet schools in the state are not seeing increased funding as a result of it, and we really can’t see what the state is doing with the money that they save as a result of it either.”

Source: abc13