The “rehabilitation” of Robin Hood

To the Republicans who run the Texas statehouse, Robin Hood – much slandered by predecessors from their own party is now a hero, although you won’t hear them admit it. If you are a recent arrival to Texas or don’t remember that there was a Texas governor before Rick Perry or George W. Bush, please let me explain.

Robin Hood, the mythical character who took from the rich to give to the poor, had long been admired by generations of school children, but in 1993 his name was hijacked by Texas Republicans for political purposes. “Robin Hood” was the moniker they applied to a landmark school finance law, enacted that year, that required property wealthy school districts to share local property tax revenue with poorer districts.

Democrats were still hanging on to power in Texas, and Republicans were trying to use the law – which became immediately unpopular with wealthy school districts – to undermine thenGov. Ann Richards, a Democrat who had signed it, on the eve of her 1994 reelection campaign. After two other proposed solutions had been struck down, this law was enacted to comply with a unanimous 1989 Texas Supreme Court order for more equity in funding between rich and poor school districts.

Richards lost her reelection race to Bush the next year, but the Robin Hood law was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court in 1995 with Republican John Cornyn (then a justice) writing the majority opinion. It has been upheld in subsequent decisions by an allRepublican Supreme Court, and its nickname has stuck.

Now that Rick Perry and other Republicans are in control of the statehouse, Robin Hood is more entrenched than ever. The GOPers may still say an occasional unkind word about Robin because it is still good politics, especially in suburban Texas, to bash him. But, in truth, they are very glad he is here because he helps them pass the buck for hundreds of millions of dollars in school funding each year to local taxpayers. More than 300 school districts contributed more than $1 billion to Robin’s cause in 2010.

The buckpassing (plus $5.4 billion in education budget cuts this year) helps the governor and the legislative majority continue to dodge a longoverdue overhaul of the state’s tax structure, while shortchanging almost 5 million public school children.

Several hundred school districts are suing the state (again) over the inadequate and inequitable school finance system, but the districts don’t really expect the litigation to force Robin Hood to go away, as is noted in the story linked below.

The school districts hope their suits will force the state to appropriate more money to education and to reduce disparities between wealthy and poor districts, but they aren’t expecting a miracle.


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