Rethinking Robin Hood Reform
Rethinking Robin Hood was enlightening piece about the rise and fall of the school financing policy that was adopted by Texas over 20 years ago. The Robin Hood” system of educational funding came about as a result of disparities within the public educational system. This system came as a response to the ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in the Edgewood v. Kirby case in 1991. After determining that the inequality in public school funding ranged from $20,000 per student to $14 million per student in wealthy districts it was determined that funding was unconstitutional.
The “Robin Hood” system was set in place stating that taxes would be raised countywide and then distributed equally throughout the school districts. This was in hopes that there would be a shift from funding wealthier districts to lessening the disparity by funding poor districts. Unfortunately the system was very much goal oriented and did not give the guidance in reaching that lofty goal. In addition this system was found to be unconstitutional after it was determined that this too went against the constitutional amendment which stated that no one areas property taxes should be raised to benefit those in another area. They also determined that if there was to be any tax increase citizens needed to have the opportunity to vote on such changes. In the end it was determined that even within the “Robin Hood” system inequality in education actually increased. On a scale of 1-10, previous to the system the inequality margin was set at .149 while as after it rose to .154.
The main problem with this policy, in my opinion, was there is no clear plan of action to reach their goal. They saw a problem and believed they knew what the end product should look like but there was no one clear way to get there. Another problem was that there were many misconceptions about what the policy actually was doing and I believe this also affected the ability to carry out the plan. In reality this policy in no way changed the constitution and that is why later on it was overthrown. It also had nothing to do with equity of spending. Those not well versed on the policy believed all students would be receiving the same amount of funding as any other student in the state; instead it just promised only equal revenue for equal tax effort. In the end it solved nothing in the courts and the battle continued. Debate continued to ring out that if students all received the same funding the state would either need to level down to a state of mediocrity of all students or move all students up to a higher level which could cost the state a nearly 500 billion in school funding each year that did not exist.
What they came up with was the No Politics Formula for school funding. Districts were allowed to set their own property taxes. The total amount of student revenue would then be determined by the state median property taxes. Those districts who were already spending beyond that average amount per student would not receive any funding while those who were below would receive supplemental funding from the state. This would ensure that all students would at least be provided with a set level of educational funding no matter where they lived. This solved some problems but others still exist. One big one is that there were big winners and losers within this system. The big winners seemed to be those living right outside big cities in nearby suburbs. The losers were those living with the big cities. The largest districts were the ones that saw the biggest loss in funding.
This leads to questions I have that were not answered within the article. What were the factors that caused this? Were students living in big cities having a lot of money spent on them to begin with? This is a piece that I believe is interesting but missing from the overall story. Another key piece that brings me full circle to present day circumstances is the fact that none of these policies touched federal funding. Due to our federal laws no state can determine what will happen with federal funds therefore this was additional funding not included in the scenario provided. This is also telling as I look at the current state in Texas over the past decade with NCLB. I have noticed they are very focused on high stakes testing. They always seem to be pushing for test reediness and seem to have some of the highest scores in the country. I wonder if this has a part in that. I found this very interesting as someone who does consider myself well versed in educational policy and reform. I think that like with many other policies that seem great, the success lies not in the outcome or goal of the policy itself but instead in the method to which they are reaching that goal. That is where the true success lies.
K.J. Hayes & D.J. Slottje, (1993). Rethinking robin hood. NCPA Policy Report No. 179. ISBE # 1-56808-002-6.