Photo: Jason Fochtman, Staff Photographer
AUSTIN — Houston Independent School District won’t have to hand millions of dollars to the state to spend at other schools if HISD needs that money to recover from Hurricane Harvey, but the district will have to apply for that money, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Friday.
The same goes for any of the roughly 250 school districts in declared disaster areas that are required to pay so-called recapture payments to the state as part of the “Robin Hood” program that siphons money from property wealthy school districts to give to property poor ones.
Morath, who leads the Texas Education Agency, said school districts will need to apply for the funds with the state and pay any recapture money not need for Harvey recovery. First, districts will have to exhaust their insurance and federal aid before trying to tap that money, he said.
“They have to have exhausted all their other funding sources first,” said Morath.
One in five school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey pay into the Robin Hood program, the TEA estimates.
HISD officials said Thursday they discovered a state law that allows school districts to keep their recapture money in the event of a disaster, written into law in 2009 following Hurricane Ike.
The school system, responsible for 210,000 students, has been reluctant to hand over recapture money to the state, saying it may be in a property-wealthy area but most students it teaches are low-income.
After two public referendums, the district and voters ultimately agreed earlier this year to pay the recapture money, but that was before Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain in some areas of Houston, flooding major parts of the city.
Texas already paid the TEA $77.5 million in recapture fees this year and could owe $60 million more for the 2016-17 school year.
Other property-wealthy school districts in disaster areas will also be able to apply to keep some or all of their recapture money to help pay for expenses related to storm recovery, although the TEA was unsure how many districts that would include.
As of Friday, 52 schools remained closed due to catastrophic damages, according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. Another 234 schools have significant damage and 678 have some damage.
Morath said he hopes to have a plan within three weeks to help cover costs for districts hit by the storm.