As a principal, how can I find out how the proposed school finance system will affect the funds that my school receives? How can I compare both systems?
The simplest way is to compare what you would get under the current funding system against the new one. Whenever the state is considering changing the funding system, legislators have historically requested and gotten computer printouts showing how much each district gains or loses under each new plan.

In addition to looking at your district, ask for information on other districts including richer districts in your area to see if their state funding for each student is more, less, or equal to yours. Also ask if, on an overall basis, the new system is more or less equitable than the old one, including whether it provides for more or less unequalized enrichment (extra money raised by districts that is not equalized by the state).

As a teacher, what impact does the current educational finance have on me and my students in my classroom? How do I and my students benefit from this system?
The amount of money that is provided to your school directly affects how much you get paid, what supplies and materials you have to teach your students, what technology you have access to, and even the quality of buildings that you teach in.

If the funding system is equalized and all schools have similar amounts of money to educate students, then some teachers will not get paid more for doing the same job – just because they happen to work in a wealthier district.

If funding is equalized, all schools will have similar access to technology, books, science labs, and opportunities to improve teacher skills through professional development. In extra-curricular activities, equalized funding will support having similar starting points in UIL athletic and academic competitions.

If the current recapture program is discontinued, what kind of impact will this have on me and my students?
If funding is made less equal across schools, by eliminating recapture, some schools will have more money to spend on their teachers, materials, facilities and extra-curricular activities than others that can raise extra money from local taxes.

If the $1.2 billion that the state raises through recapture is done away with, most Texans will have to either have less money for their local public schools, or will have to raise taxes to recover what will be lost.

What exactly is school finance equity?
Equity refers to the idea that all school districts should get what is needed to provide a good education for their children, and that a good education should be equally available regardless of the neighborhood a child lives in.

If schools are not equitably funded, you get uneven levels of preparation for children – making them unequally prepared for colleges or local jobs after high school. Fewer college graduates and less well prepared workers means fewer or lower-paying jobs, which means fewer people paying taxes and higher taxes for those who do pay them. Less educated populations also means more spending for job training, criminal justice costs, and social support services. Every $1 spent on education produces at least $9 in future savings and increased income and tax revenues.

Why is “Robin Hood” the wrong label?
Some would have us believe that money is taken from wealthy districts and is given to poor districts and that the taxpayers in those wealthy districts subsidize the taxpayers in the poor districts. This is not the case.

As stated in the February 10, 2003, San Antonio Express-News editorial: “Much of the wealth enjoyed by these property-rich school districts comes not from individual taxpayers but from the businesses that have located in those communities. Often these businesses were established at those sites because of state-financed infrastructure, which is funded by taxpayers across Texas. It is only fair to expect that public school students across the state reap the benefits.”

Why should I be concerned about eliminating the current system?
If you are a taxpayer, you do not know if your local school taxes are going to go up or down or stay the same, and you will not know that for at least two years (until 2005).

If you are a parent, you do not know what kind of school program your child will be provided. Since the state would eliminate existing formulas that are based on student characteristics, you do not know if special education will get funding and, if it does, how much.

The same questions will exist for low-income students, gifted and talented children, and children who do not speak English.

If you live in a rural community, you will not know if the extra money that your community gets because it is small or out in the country will be continued, or if the state will continue to give you money for buses. And you will not have any answers until the committee makes recommendations in 2005.

Who will be impacted by eliminating the existing system of school finance? Who wins and who loses?
All Texas public schools will be impacted by eliminating the current funding system.

Everyone loses and no one wins if we eliminate equity in school funding. Out of the 1,033 school districts in the state of Texas, 917 districts who educate 91 percent of Texas children will lose over $1.2 billion that the state provides through the current funding system. Those districts will have to raise local taxes or cut spending by firing teachers or eliminating programs for children. The 134 or so school systems that “share the wealth” also will lose in an unequal system that dims the future of economic productivity in Texas.

If the state reinstates some funding but does not require the wealthiest few to share revenue, the 887 school districts that directly benefit from the $1.2 billion provided by recapture will no longer have that funding available. If state lawmakers stick by the pledge to not raise taxes, those school districts will have to cut back programs, reduce their teaching or other staff, or raise taxes.

Is the current funding system so bad that it cannot be fixed?
A handful of people think so, but they are part of the small number who want to spend thousands of dollars more on “their” children than anyone else and pay lower taxes at the same time. The truth is that with a few minor adjustments, things that some schools are worried about can be fixed. For example, some complain that the existing limit on taxes needs to be changed. And it can be by simply raising the limit from the current $1.50 to something higher. Even the complaints of the wealthiest districts can be addressed without destroying the whole system.

What about just figuring out what an adequate education is and providing funding just for that?
Some propose that the state should conduct a study of what is an adequate education and estimate how much it costs and simply fund that. No one has asked the question: Adequate for what? Do we need to educate everyone to the level where they can be adequate gardeners? Adequate auto mechanics? Adequate college students? Adequate doctors? Or perhaps even more narrowly, adequate test takers who can pass a high school exit test? Until advocates of adequacy answer “Adequacy for what?” they are asking the public to buy a “pig in a poke.”

Another problem with funding “adequacy” is that it usually means “minimum.” If adequacy is equivalent to minimum, then an adequate education may mean an equally bad education for all the children of Texas. If it is minimal for some but excellent for others, the system would be unequal and thus subject to the same legal challenges that the state fought over for 20 years. Rather than looking for adequacy, we should figure out the cost of an excellent education for all children and fund that in an equitable manner.

Texas cannot afford to go back 20 years to the days when some children had good schools and others did not, when some paid high property taxes while some communities paid almost nothing at all, and where education was based on where you happened to be born. The same forces that created those unequal conditions are the ones leading the move to destroy the current funding plan. All children deserve better. And our new economies demand it.

I am a principal of a school in a low wealth school district. Why should I be concerned with a change in the current school finance system?
The state provides money to local schools based on the property wealth – because that is what determines how much money you can raise from local taxes for education. The current system attempts to equalize the amount of money that is available to educate each child, by providing less state funding to rich districts and more state funding to poorer ones.

If the current system is changed, you may wind up getting less money than you have now. Another possibility is that there will be less equity in the new system returning the state to the time when poor districts never had enough money and rich ones had more than they needed. As a principle that means you might get less to educate your children, pay your teachers, or support your local extra-curricular programs. Worse, you may lose your best teachers or other staff who will be able to raid your resources with the promise of more money and better benefits than you will be able to afford.

I am a principal of a school in an average wealth district. Why should I be concerned about funding equity?
The state provides money to almost all districts, and average wealth districts get about half if not more of their funding from the state. Possible cutbacks in state education funding will impact all districts but mostly poorer and average wealth districts. With less state money you would have to decide whether to cut programs or to try convincing you local communities to increase taxes.

What are some suggestions for funding a more equitable school finance system in Texas?
Some new ideas have included taxing businesses at the state level (instead of limiting the tax benefits to a small number of people in a few communities). Other ideas include a personal income tax that could be dedicated to education. Whatever approach is used it must be designed to generate as much or more funding and be insulated from dramatic decreases caused by peaks and valleys in the state economy.

What does school finance equity mean?
Equity means that your child has as much money as is needed for his or her education as every other child in the state, regardless of his or her parents’ income or where they live.

Who is trying to change the way schools are funded in Texas? Why?
The “who” part of your question is a small group of some of the 100 wealthiest school districts and their taxpayers who used to spend thousands of dollars more than anyone else on their schools and who could tax themselves at much lower rates than most other districts in the state and who lost many of their advantages when the state was required to equalize the public school funding system.

The “why” is because they liked it the way they had it and want to go back to the unequal system where they were on top and everyone else on the bottom.

How does school finance affect my child?
The state helps pay the bills of local schools, covering everything from paying teachers and principles to helping pay the light and water bills that come with operating local schools. If the local districts cannot afford to cover all the expenses the state provides what is needed – with the state amount based on the district’s ability to pay (determined by how much and the value of property that can be used to generate local school funding).

If the system is not equalized by the state, then richer districts will recruit the best teachers, principles and administrators, coaches, and band instructors away from your schools by offering better pay, benefits or other incentives, leaving your children with fewer opportunities to learn as much or to compete fairly with other schools.

I’m a parent – how do I make a difference?
Local school officials and particularly state legislature care about what local community members think and believe in. When they get calls from or meet with people who care about an issue, they remember it when it comes time for them to vote for or against any change in state policies. As elected officials they want to vote for things that they believe their communities will like and against anything that is bad so that the people who are watching will support them in the future. They know that if enough people are informed and unhappy that it may impact their re-election or election to a future higher position.

Who can I contact about more information?
You can contact organizations that are members of the Texas Latino Education Coalition (like the Intercultural Development Research Association) and other groups – such as the Equity Center in Austin, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and the Mexican American School Board Members Association – that are tracking what is being considered and their implications for local schools.