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Eanes ISD fights for fair school finance law

On the first day of the session, Eanes ISD Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard didn’t waste time meeting with lawmakers on how recapture impacts districts like his. (CBS Austin)

Moments after the 86th Texas Legislative session started, school finance law was on the mind of many lawmakers.

Governor Greg Abbott has called on a school funding fix for this session, saying, “We must put Robin Hood school funding on a path of extinction and must pay our best teachers more.”

On the first day of the session, Eanes ISD Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard didn’t waste time meeting with lawmakers on how recapture impacts districts like his.

“We have been operating under a deficit for a couple of years. Luckily we’ve had enough of a fund balance to hold us through but that’s not going to last forever. And if the percent of recapture keeps going up, compromises are going to have to be made and what we can provide to our community,” said Leonard

He said 66 percent of what taxpayers pay the school district is actually going back to the state, which can create “some angst” because homeowners see their taxes go up and think it’s going back to the local school district when much of it is going to the state.

Eanes ISD measures that in the 2018-2019 school year, residents lost twice as much to recapture, $101.7 million, than what the district is able to keep for their local schools, $59.5 million.

Dr. Leonard fears if the recapture rate stays as it is the classroom could start to feel the impact. “The ability to compensate fairly, it’s already being compromised. Keeping class sizes reasonable is being compromised,” he said.

Major school districts like Houston ISD, Dallas ISD and Austin ISD are asking lawmakers to adjust the state’s “Robin Hood” formula where districts with a lot of property wealth have taxpayers there essentially help pay for other school districts that don’t have as much property tax money.

“We cannot get zero new dollars from the state of Texas and keep up with the costs that are rising for us and the costs that are rising for our employees, we just can’t do it,” said Leonard.

State lawmakers are aware they need to step in. State Rep. Gina Hinojosa said to a group of reporters that “education fiance reform means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.” While State Rep. Celia Isreal said she is "looking forward to an education session.”

Some bills to watch on school finance include HJR 24, which is aimed to change the state constitution to require the state to pay at least half the cost of funding public schools, and HB 443, which would adjust the formula that calculates how much a district must pay.

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