AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As differences emerge between the Texas House and Senate versions of public school funding reform bills, educators gave lawmakers input on the proposals.
“Right now we are not leading,” State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, lamented as he laid out the bill in the committee that he chairs.
Lawmakers have put band-aids on the education system but promised this session to tackle longer-term fixes.
“This bill represents transformative changes to our education system,” State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said Thursday morning.
One of the overarching discrepancies between the two versions is the Senate plan gives more money to schools that perform well. A key component of that criteria is STAAR test results. The House version minimizes that idea.
“We need to see the long term plan, how are we going to continue funding for the pay raises or the teacher compensations or Pre-K so you have it long term,” seventh-grade teacher Milton Perez said Thursday.
Perez, a special education teacher, has been with Round Rock ISD for 13 years. He said he would not want to see funding tied to student performance on standardized tests, but argued teachers should get strategic incentive compensation based on “holistic teacher evaluation.” That concept is similar to what district officials currently do in Round Rock, where performance is a percentage of the criteria, but evaluations are not solely based on STAAR scores.
“If we keep with the status quo, I don’t see that achievement gap closing and helping those kids that live in the high poverty areas,” Perez added. “Nothing is perfect but having some sort of compensation plan to attract those teachers will benefit and close the gap.”
One-size fits all approaches will not work here, district leaders from across the state told lawmakers.
“Trying to fund over 1,100 school district plus charter school district is an incredible task, and if you think you can do it with a one-size-fits-all, you’re fooling yourself,” Galveston ISD superintendent Kelli Moulton said.
“Being able to provide those monies and be flexible and allowing the school district to contribute to that decision is where this group needs to go,” Moulton said, referring to the committee’s approach. “They won’t get it right for everybody so don’t try. What we need to do is provide that general funding, the general outlook of how we are going to support our local school district and move in that direction.”
In Dallas ISD, superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said bonuses based on school success works.
“It’s not just a STAAR test, this is how many kids graduate, and are they ready with certificates to go into the world of work,” he said. “These are things that are measurable, they can actually have a benefit to their lives.”
Another difference between the plans is the House bill would allocate $1,850 raises for all district employees, while the Senate plan would provide $5,000 raises, but only for teachers and librarians.
“I am against across the board, I am for the differentiated performance pay,” Hinojosa said. “They’re trying to do a combination of both.”
“I’m against across-the-board because I don’t think our underperforming teachers should get that money,” he added. “I should be giving some of that money to our higher performing teachers.”
Moulton indicated there are many factors that go into incentivizing educators.
“Until we actually pay all our teachers at a livable wage, it is going to be really hard to incentivize some over others,” she explained. “But we do have to recognize that some teachers are master teachers and they do more and work harder, so how do we identify that, what are metrics for that, and how do we incentivize that?”
“How do we incentivize teacher leadership?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s not always about going into that front office and being an assistant principal or principal, we need to find pathways in order to incentivize teachers to stay as practitioners, as coaches, to make sure that they contribute to the overall student academic outcomes.”
Moulton and other district heads worry about how to pay for all the decisions being made at the Capitol.
“We are taking a lot of different pieces and moving them around so hopefully everybody is a winner in the process and I love that — I want to make sure that we do have winners and not losers,” she said.
Perez said he thinks lawmakers are balancing true reform with trying to pacify the more immediate demands of educators.
“Every teacher deserves a raise across Texas,” Perez said. “We all work hard and put in a lot of hours so we all deserve that pay raise.”