On Campus Water Park and the Robin Hood Policy: Where our Money Is Really Going

From+left+to+right%2C+Valerie+West+and+Lauren+Guzy+throw+up+money+in+front+of+the+school

From left to right, Valerie West and Lauren Guzy throw up money in front of the school

Lauren Guzy and Valerie west

Being a current student at FHS, I think I speak for everyone when I say I know absolutely nothing about our school finances. Even after interviewing three different perspectives on the issue, I’m still sitting here scratching my head, though more out of frustration than confusion.

Why, you ask?

La Joya.

This last summer, La Joya ISD, located just 24 miles from the Rio Grande, built their very own, on campus waterpark. Yes, that’s right, LJISD built Texas’s very first school-owned waterpark. If I’m being completely honest, my initial feeling towards this issue was jealousy, but I got over this feeling pretty quickly when I discovered how exactly they got the funding for the project.

Our state has this outdated policy, known as the Robin Hood policy, where property-wealthy school districts, deemed Chapter 41, send funds to the state, which are then split evenly and given to property-poor Chapter 42 districts.

La Joya is indeed a Chapter 42 school, and FISD is a- yes you guessed it- Chapter 41. It’s impossible to tell if it really was our Chapter 41 money that funded this waterpark, but this just makes me think: what is our money being used for?

The answer is no one really knows where our additional tax money goes; when sent to the state, the money is then dispersed between the schools with no real way of knowing where it came from.

When interviewing state representative Kyle Biederman, he delved deeper into the process that allowed La Joya to build the waterpark. When the La Joya school board first introduced the idea, the community had to take a vote on whether to build the water park. The school board may have begun the process, but it was the voters of La Joya ISD who really made it happen by voting yes for a water park that may have used Chapter 41 funds.

According to school board member Mark Cornett, FISD will be sending $11 million of our funding towards the “broken” Robin Hood policy. Cornett stated the system took money from “rich” school districts, evening the slate for poor schools, but the poor schools end up getting millions of dollars, leaving them richer than the “rich” schools who then have additional funds to build a water park.  Other schools around the state will be sending even more money than FISD, reaching nearly $500 million for the bigger schools. My question is: where did Robin Hood even come from?

“The Robin Hood” or Chapter 41 policy was put in place in response to the court case Edgewood ISD v. Kirby in 1993. Skipping ahead to 20 years later, State District Judge John Dietz ruled Robin Hood is “unconstitutional” on the grounds of unfair distribution and insufficient funding in a similar court case, but the policy was never removed or amended. This has happened more than once. But no matter how unfair and unconstitutional it is, the Robin Hood policy has become a crutch for property-poor Texas school districts, and the state legislators are the only ones who can fix this problem.

Texas schools have obtained funding from each other for 25 years. Without this funding, the money to fund schools would have to come from another source: income tax. Texas is one of seven states that does not have income tax… yet. But the funding for schools has to come from somewhere. If not Robin Rood, then income tax, or possibly raised property taxes.

Even though one school, like La Joya, in our opinion took advantage, the Robin Hood policy has benefited many schools over the years. As for La Joya, the water park provides proper equipment for swim teams and jobs for students in need.

Running for state representative for District 73, Stephanie Phillips agreed to her first student interview to talk about what happened with La Joya and what this means for the next election. She, as well as nearly everyone else, does not agree with the Robin Hood policy. But she had some good points about what it brings to the table, and how it benefits us in the long run. Because most of the students in the property-poor districts are finding themselves in a lack of money at home, the schools funded by Robin Hood become an escape of sorts for some students. It allows the students with nothing at home to enjoy the economic comforts the schools are able to provide.

According to Phillips, the Robin Hood policy ensures that overall, every school has the same funding. Even if this looks good on paper, it isn’t necessarily able to work. I read a story not long ago, about a professor at a college who proposed a new aspect to grading after getting multiple complaints about grades from students. He would take the average of all the graded tests, and give every student the same grade. This appeased the lazier students until the hard-working students who studied eventually stopped, and everyone failed the class. This brilliant professor opened eyes to the unfairness of financial equality. But the Robin Hood policy isn’t as easy to eradicate as many would think. Like I said before, the funding for schools has to come from somewhere, and I don’t think anyone wants to start paying income taxes any time soon.

Oddly enough, this unconstitutional policy is just what we need to help fix our broken system. Instead of trashing the policy, refine it. Allow schools to buy only equipment they need, not what they want. Distribute the money more evenly. Even though La Joya may have taken advantage, the Robin Hood policy has benefited many schools over the years and, if refined, could help many more in the future. Once amended, the pros will definitely outweigh the cons.