This story about the state's recapture system was produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that provides free news, data and events on Texas public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


For some in the debate over how to fund Texas’ schools, “Robin Hood” is decidedly a villain.

The program, baked into state education law since 1993, requires the state to take funding from school districts with higher property values within their boundaries and give it to poorer school districts that can’t raise much money. It’s become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the state’s school finance system, invoked regularly by politicians promising to help tamp down rising tax bills.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted this month that Texas will “begin dismantling the flawed Robin Hood scheme that has failed our schools.” State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, pitched legislation to “stop excessive Robin Hood theft” and limit how much the state can take from wealthier districts. A couple of lawmakers have filed bills to completely strike the program from state law.

But even some of the system’s biggest critics admit that eliminating the program will be next to impossible this session. That’s because the state has set up a school-funding structure that relies heavily on property taxes, and property values are unequal across the state. Without Robin Hood, schools in property-wealthy school districts would have a lot more money to educate their students than those in areas with low property values, likely exposing the whole system to more lawsuits.

Given the alternatives—like, say, a state income tax or raising other forms of taxes—lawmakers are unlikely to adopt a new system in which property taxes play a smaller role.

“The state needs a 12-step program, and the first step is to publicly admit, ‘I am the state of Texas, and I am addicted to local property taxes,’” said David Thompson, a lawyer who has represented both the state and school districts in lawsuits over school funding.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, is one of the lawmakers who filed a bill that would eliminate Robin Hood, which is known formally as “recapture.” But he said the legislation is designed to spark a conversation about how Texas funds its schools — and that he’s not sincerely leading a campaign to nix the program.

“We all understand that we have to have equity in our school funding,” he said.

Last year, Landgraf’s district sent $8.5 million in property tax revenue back to the state. That’s about 30 percent of the money it collects through property taxes to run its schools.