Local leaders worry about impact of proposed teacher raise

As the the 86th Texas Legislature churns forward, the pressure to address meaningful public school finance reform was on the clock last week.

Ultimately, the Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill that would give teachers and librarians a $5,000 raise. The bill proposes $3.7 billion for mandated teacher and librarian raises.

Senate Bill  (SB) 3 is a controversial attempt to address teacher salary increases, which has been a key issue this session. But for local public school officials in Hays County, the implications of a $5,000 raise may hurt schools across the state in the future.

Questions, however,  still linger on who will pick up the $4 billion bill if the next legislature doesn’t fund the bill.

“It’s just a very little drop in the bucket considering what the legislature has done to public education since 2008,” said Dripping Springs Independent School District Superintendent Bruce Gearing.

Gearing cited the state’s action to funnel less money to public education in the past decade.

“It’s a band-aid. If the state gives $5,000 raises and doesn’t fund that pay increase again, would school districts have to take it away? If they don’t fix school finance, and the funding runs out, we will have the burden to fund those raises,” Gearing said.

The bill still needs to be approved or reconciled with the House’s own school finance bills. The bill’s twin, House Bill (HB) 3, is garnering bipartisan support for what state officials call a more meaningful effort to fix school finance.

HB 3 includes $6 billion for public education and around $3 billion for property tax reform. One of the biggest selling points of the bill includes its increased funding per student throughout the state.

Representative Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) remains “cautiously optimistic” with the prospects of HB 3. The bill would increase funding per pupil by $890/year. According to the National Education Association, Texas spent around $10,456 per student during the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which is $2,000 below the national average. Compared to other states, Texas ranks near the bottom for per-pupil funding.

“I am encouraged. I’m thankful the Texas House chose to include only serious proposals in the school finance bill,” Zwiener said in a statement.

However, Zwiener worries how the bill could impact schools in her district, as well as whether the measures provide “adequate funding for special education” and how it impacts educator pay.

“Over the next 82 days, I am going to continue to work with stakeholders and my colleagues in the House to get this done and get it done right,” Zwiener said.

The bill also establishes funding for full-day Pre-K. Hays CISD Superintendent Eric Wright has spoken at board of trustee meetings in favor of full-day Pre-k.

Wright has called full-day Pre-K a way to close the learning gap for students at a young age. A consistent problem for local districts centers on funding for Pre-K. 

Carla Perez, a Hays CISD educator and president of the Hays Educators Association (HEA), said there are bills to stay optimistic about at the capital, but SB3 is not one of them.

“Texas lawmakers need to wake up and stop making cuts to public education,” Perez said. “We are trying to fund our future, so what does that say about our state when we can’t adequately fund our schools? This session has been a wake-up call.”

Perez said teacher and librarian raises, although warranted, do not include school councilors, bus drivers and other staff who contribute to the success of a school.

Perez said SB3 is a band-aid and does not address deep seated issues in the way public schools are funded.

“I think HB 3 is the right approach because it takes a more broad approach to fix school finance with full-day Pre-K, student funding and some property tax relief,” Gearing said. “The state has to address our system of recapture and property tax reform, and I think this is the right approach.”

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