I can remember when the legendary Robin Hood was considered a hero for trying to give poor folks a break. How quaint that idea sounds in today’s climate of corporate greed and conservative Texas politics. The latest bad idea to emerge from the latter (if the current state of Texas politics can be separated from corporate greed, and I am not sure that it can) is state Rep. Gary Elkins’ constitutional amendment to remove Robin Hood from Texas’ school finance system.
The amendment (HJR 104) actually is the regurgitation of an old idea that already was bad when thenstate Rep. (nowCongressman) John Culberson trotted it out years ago. Essentially, the amendment – if approved by the Legislature and Texas voters – would remove the courts from any oversight over the school finance system, leaving decisions over how to pay for the public schools in the hands of the Legislature and the governor alone. If that thought doesn’t terrify the average Texas voter – particularly given the slashandburn mentality of the current state leadership – nothing will.
Elkins, of course, is trying to tap into unhappiness over the socalled “Robin Hood” school finance law, which was enacted in 1993 to comply with a Texas Supreme Court order for more equity in funding among Texas’ school districts. The law requires wealthier districts to share property tax revenue with poorer districts. It was enacted when Democrat Ann Richards was governor and Democrats were still in control of the Legislature, and was tagged with the “Robin Hood” nickname by Republicans seeking to make it a political issue.
But it was later upheld by both Republicans and Democrats on the Texas Supreme Court in an opinion written by thenJustice John Cornyn, now the Republican junior U.S. senator from Texas.
More importantly, the law, although farfromperfect, has improved educational opportunities for tens of thousands of school kids in propertypoor districts. Before the courts intervened in the 1980s, the state’s poorest school districts were grossly illequipped, paid their teachers minimum salaries and struggled to offer the educational basics. And, these districts weren’t limited to the poverty belt along the Mexican border. They were all over the state. Many were in rural areas with little or no commercial or industrial wealth to tax.
It is the Legislature’s and the governor’s fault not the courts’ – that the public has grown increasingly unhappy over the Robin Hood law. Lawmakers need to quit shirking their existing constitutional duty to provide for the public schools and enact an adequate, as well as equitable, system of state education funding – instead of trying to shove Texas backwards by a quarter of a century. They need to quit passing the school finance buck to local taxpayers via Robin Hood and misplacing the blame.
For all its faults, Robin Hood has been a hero to many Texas schoolchildren. The villains are sitting in the state Capitol.