Gov. Greg Abbott charged lawmakers with finding a way to pay for teacher pay raises statewide. The most difficult part of that task will be finding the money.
Tuesday at the Texas State Capitol, a select panel of House members on education looked at several ideas. House Bill 198 by State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, would create a legal basis to pay for the system. Over the next 15 years, it would phase in a program to give merit pay increases by adding $22 million next year and nearly a $1 billion in more than a decade. Clardy predicts it would be able to pay for 125,000 teachers to receive raises. There are more than 300,000 teachers in Texas.
Under his plan, the Texas Education Agency would negotiate rules with stakeholders to set permanent benchmarks for teachers. It calls for establishing a category of “accomplished” teachers who are nationally board certified. A “distinguished” teacher will apply to be in the top 25 percent of their fields. They would have to be paid $68,000 a year within three years. A “master” teacher, who will apply to be in the top 5 percent of their fields, would make $85,000 a year within five years.
The state would pay $4,000 for each teacher in the three categories through formula funding through the Foundation School Program, where most of the state’s education funds come from. Teachers would apply through their districts to the Texas Education Agency, which would approve the raises and send the money down to the district.
Teachers are skeptical. In short, they’ve heard it before. Twenty-seven-year teaching veteran, Christie Smith, says the pay isn’t keeping up with rising property taxes.
“Put your money where your mouth is and fix that funding and fund us a real raise instead of saying ‘yay teachers, we’re going to give you a raise’ but you know, figure out where you’re going to get this money from,” said Smith, who teaches kindergarten in Pflugerville.
“This is not another unfunded mandate put on the backs of our teachers. We need to get past that time where our teachers need to go buy Crayola’s and paper for their classrooms [out of their own pocket],” Rep. Clardy told KXAN. He presented his idea to the House Public Education Committee Tuesday, the first major hurdle for the bill to become law.
Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, on the committee was skeptical that future lawmakers would continue the program. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, did not support giving the Texas Education Agency power over who gets paid what.
“We’ve lived all the roll outs of STARR and everything else and to suggest that some of those things haven’t gone well… would be an understatement,” said Rep. Huberty.
Clardy hopes his bill will turn the tide of tight budgets and skimping on education spending on a state level.
“We’re seeing some cracks in the system, admittedly, and we’re trying hard to address that. But I’m confident those that will come after us will be just as committed to having quality teachers and quality classrooms,” said Rep. Clardy.
Lawmakers in the committee left the idea pending so they could iron out additional details before it moves on to the House. Getting it past the Senate will be more challenging. The Texas Senate has passed nearly all of Gov. Abbott’s special session priorities. A teacher pay raise is one of the only items the 31 state senators have not passed.
Despite a detailed presentation by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick earlier in the summer, the pay raise portion of the bill was stripped out. The bill that passed would borrow nearly $200 million from the Texas Health and Human Service Commission for one-year bonuses. But a stable, permanent, pay increase has not yet been passed in the upper chamber.
One option on the table in the Senate is dedicating money from the Texas Lottery — which already goes to education — to permanent raises. However, that plan was criticized for not providing any new funds.
Lawmakers are in a 30-day special session for two more weeks.
(Information from KXAN.com)