Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Robin Hood system revisited as budgets shrink

02/09/2011 05:24 PM
Robin Hood system revisited as budgets shrink

By: Heidi Zhou-Castro

The Robin Hood provision, a financing mechanism that seeks to bring equity between the state's rich and poor school districts, has come under fire recently as Texas parents stare down impending budget cuts.

Al Kauffman, a speaker at the Texas Center for Education Policy's annual conference, was the lawyer credited with convincing the courts that Robin Hood was needed.

"That does benefit the kids who need it the most," Kauffman said. "The poor students and the minority students who were not given an equal opportunity in the past are given a more equal opportunity now."

According to Kauffman, the need is just as great today as it was in 1990, when he won his case.

"There's still tremendous differences, and there's still a lack of funding for all of the districts in the state," he said.

Those differences are severe, according to David Hinojosa, a senior litigator with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He said a $1,000-per-child funding gap still exists between wealthy districts and poorer ones.

"You multiply that times a classroom of 20 and then you multiply that times a school of 500, you're talking about thousands and thousands of dollars," he said.

Nevertheless, Robin Hood has been a popular target among richer districts that say the system is unfair. Under the current state budget proposals, they may be forced to close schools and fire teachers.

Take AISD, which paid $128 million to Robin Hood in the last fiscal year. That money would have easily covered the $113 million shortfall the district projects next year.

Current lawmakers are quick to point out Robin Hood was not their idea.

"The courts made us do that," Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said. "There's no way we'd be able to remove that from the equation, because we'd be back in court."

Court may well be where the debate ends up, as shrinking funds make the concept of the rich giving to the poor less appealing over time.

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