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MALDEF gets injunction in recapture lawsuit

From their website:

Please attribute the following statement on a Texas court ruling ordering state education officials to cease bypassing existing school funding rules to Marisa Bono, Southwest regional counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):

“MALDEF is pleased that the District Court saw through efforts by the Texas Education Agency to circumvent school funding rules. The court was abundantly clear in its finding that efforts to relieve wealthier school districts of their responsibilities to poorer districts under ‘recapture’ amounted to ‘an inadequate, improper, and invalid attempt at a rule amendment.’ As MALDEF argued, and the court found, state education officials failed to comply with the mandatory requirement that any changes in funding rules must include a fiscal impact statement – TEA’s own witness confirmed that this rule change will cost public schools $88 million a year. We call on the Texas legislature to take immediate and binding steps to bar the TEA from doing this again.”

Read the injunction order here.

Read the jurisdiction order here.

See here for the background. I started writing this before there was any reporting on it, just a bit of chatter on Facebook that led me to Google and the MALDEF statement. Now here is the Chron story.

Just weeks after voters approved a $77.5 million payment to the state in so-called “recapture” fees, the Houston school district could be stuck with another $60 million in fees after a judge’s ruling that the state improperly slashed wealthy districts’ bills.

The ruling, by state District Judge Darlene Byrne in Travis County, temporarily halts an agreement by the Texas Education Agency that allowed the Houston Independent School District and other property-rich districts to reduce the amount of “equalization” payments required to fund public education.

The ruling throws HISD’s recapture bill back into question and could affect more than a dozen other property wealthy districts across the state, though no official list has been released.

“We understand the financial situation even wealthy school districts are in, which is why we’re pushing for school finance reform in the Legislature,” said Marisa Bono, southwest regional council for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil rights organization that filed the suit.

“But the solution is not to give wealthy districts a tax break on the backs of property poor districts.”

[…]

The deal was cut in February, when TEA said it would give districts such as HISD credit for half of their local homestead exemptions, along with adjustments for student enrollment and property values, to cut the districts’ recapture bills.

The changes were outlined in a Feb. 1 memo penned by TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez that were later incorporated into TEA’s recapture manual.

TEA officials at the time concluded the would result in “no fiscal implications to state or local government, including local school districts.”

But attorneys for the property-poor districts argued the state would lose $88 million in funding, causing significant financial loss to local governments.

In a ruling released late Friday, Byrne concluded that the reprieve granted by TEA was “inadequate, improper and invalid,” and that the TEA manual did not contain an accurate financial note describing the fiscal impact of the changes.

She granted a temporary injunction to halt the recapture calculations until the case can go to trial Aug. 11.

Unless the state works out another way to grant HISD and the other districts a reprieve, the district could be forced to pay $137 million. The adjustments for enrollment and property values were allowed to stand, said Bono, the MALDEF lawyer.

So there you have it. It’s very frustrating, especially with the Senate undermining efforts to address the problem. I don’t know what happens next, but I hope HISD and the TEA can work something out that will be accepted by the judge and the plaintiffs.

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3 Comments

  1. Ross says:

    Well, there’s a big lie there about a tax break for wealthy districts. There’s no tax break, HISD just gets to keep money raised already. Recapture happens regardless of tax rate. Reducing the tax rate doesn’t reduce the recapture amount, and raising the rate makes more money go to the State. Thanks, La Feria, for screwing the kids in HISD schools. A big F you to the worthless pieces of crap in the Legislature as well, for failing to do their jobs while they suck up to their rich backers who hate anyone who isn’t just like them. After all, if we were good people, we would have the money to send our kids to private school, rather than being the losers Dan Patrick et al think we are.

  2. Mark Kerrissey says:

    Wait until the judge learns that TEA last January traded the $85 m. Recapture credit with certain trustees in return for the trustees placing Recapture on the ballot again. I don’t expect the TEA will fight this battle with MALDEF. It has the HISD vote and now it stands to get its $85 m back with ballooning payments in the future. HISD has forfeited its leverage (can’t sue I understand) and it now is dependent on the goodwill of the Texas GOP Senate. Recapture is a cash cow for Patrick and his corporate friends. Recapture money = corporate tax breaks. Why reform a good thing? “Money for nothing and chicks for free” Dire Straits

  3. Mark says:

    This is such BS. “relieve wealthier school districts of their responsibilities to poorer districts under ‘recapture’ ” Teachers and other employees in my “wealthier” district haven’t had a raise in years. Wealthier” districts don’t have “responsibilities” to poorer districts, their only responsibilities are to the children within their boundaries and their employees, which is why they are supposed to be “Independent”, but the Texas government has a responsibility to all districts and the students, parents, and taxpayers, one it has been ignoring for years now. Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, et al congratulated and high-fived each other when the Texas Supreme Court found the Texas school finance system deeply flawed but not unconstitutional, they didn’t care about the “deeply flawed” part, only that they were off the hook to have to fix it. And so they let another legislative session go by without a workable plan – but they had plenty of time to work on getting a stupid bathroom bill passed, didn’t they?