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Despite a Majority of Low-Income Students, 'Robin Hood' Targets AISD's Budget

AISD Headquarters located on 1111 W. 6 street.
Photo by KUT News
More than 60 percent of students in the Austin Independent School District come from low-income families.

As the Austin Independent School District gears up to trim the fiscal fat this budget season, the district faces a tough financial future.

Enrollment is flat, and the school board is preparing to lose more than $1 billion to the state's school finance system over the next five years through "recapture," which shares revenue from districts with high property tax revenues with low-income school districts.

The board met last night to discuss the future for the district next year and in the future.

As Travis County grows, it collects more property taxes, but the Austin Independent School District isn’t receiving most of that money. That’s because AISD is considered property wealthy. So, it sends a portion of its revenue back to the state to help fund poorer school districts. The process is known as recapture, or "Robin Hood". 

The system is based on property tax rates. So, it doesn’t matter that more than 60 percent of Austin’s student population is from low-income families. Other property wealthy districts have as little as two to five percent low-income students. Nicole Conley is the district’s chief financial officer.

“We don’t look, we don’t feel very rich in terms of who we serve and kind of programming that we have to offer our at risk students,” Conley says. “So, I don’t think recapture system was designed to go to these proportions.”

Next year, officials say after recapture, the district will only see about $3.5 million dollars in additional revenue over the previous year. And according to projections, the amount of money AISD sends back to the state will only increase in the future. School board members have expressed concern about this issue for months. But last night, some members, like board President Vincent Torres said the district needs to be more aggressive in dealing with the issue.

“Our approach with legislature has not been in a way that helps us make the changes that our needed at the legislature. I think the way we approach the legislature is something we need to revisit,” Torres says. “And we need to do it in a way that is thoughtful about the fact that what we may want and what they may want clearly are not the same. But is there some middle ground?

One wild card in all this is a pending ruling on a challenge to the fairness of the state's school finance system. A judge could rule on that as early as this week

The school board is scheduled to adopt its final budget next week.

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