$15,000 teacher raises part of House Democrats $40 billion school finance bill

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(The Center Square) – The Texas House Democratic Caucus on Thursday proposed a $40 billion public school education package that includes $15,000 teacher raises.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, filed the Fully Fund Our Future Act, which is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled legislature.

It was introduced as an alternative to the Republican-introduced school finance and school choice bills that passed the Texas Senate, which would create the state’s first Education Savings Account program.

Hinojosa said her bill would fully fund public school education, which she and others argue aren’t fully funded because of inflation.

“It’s time we stop paying just lip service to support our Texas teachers and start paying them their actual worth,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

The bill would raise public school teacher salaries by $15,000, allocate $5,500 raises for all school support staff, and increase the basic allotment by $2,787, the minimum amount public schools receive per student. It’s currently $6,160. Under her plan it would be $8,947.

The bill seeks to hire more school counselors, increases school safety funding by $3 billion, closes a special education funding gap, and is financially doable, she argues.

“It will take $40 billion to get Texas to the national average in student funding,” she explains. The money will come from the Texas treasury, which has $45 billion in it, she says. By taking money from the treasury, she argues, “most Texans would then keep tax money in their local schools instead of sending recapture money to the state.”

“Instead of spending our hard-earned tax-dollars on welfare for the wealthy through a private school voucher scam, we should invest in ALL students and FULLY FUND our local schools,” she said in a social media post. “Our children deserve nothing less.”

Gov. Greg Abbott called a third special legislative session for the legislature to pass a school choice bill creating ESAs. Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, filed two companion bills; one creates the ESA program, the other allocates additional record funding to public schools. Both bills passed the Senate and have yet to be heard in the House.

At an event last week in Austin, Gov. Abbott said “I want to make sure that we provide a carrot to make sure this legislation gets passed. The legislature has already set aside $4 billion to add for more funding of public education in the state of Texas.

“I wrote the agenda for the special session as only addressing ESA’s. Once ESAs are passed, I will put on the legislative call the full funding for public education, including teacher pay raises for teachers across the state of Texas.”

Hinojosa said in response, “The Governor’s bribe is immoral. Texas schools are $40 billion behind the national average in per student funding. Texas parents demand Gov. Abbott do his job and expand the call to fund our schools. Gov. Abbott is hoarding billions in taxpayer money that belongs to Texas students.”

The Governor’s bribe is immoral. Texas schools are $40 Billion behind the national average in per student funding. Texas parents demand @GregAbbott_TX do his job & expand the call to fund our schools. @GovAbbott is hoarding billions in taxpayer $ that belongs to Texas students. https://t.co/nXqRQVLeZi— Gina Hinojosa (@GinaForAustin) October 18, 2023

House Speaker Dade Phelan has said a school choice bill is unlikely to pass the House unless a bill accompanying it includes additional funding for public school education.

Creighton’s bills address this concern. SB 2 allocates record funding for public school education, including increasing the basic allotment for per-student funding and giving raises to teachers across the board. It passed nearly unanimously in the Senate by a vote of 30-1.

His SB 1 allocates $500 million to fund the ESA program from the general revenue fund. This is separate from public school funding appropriated in SB 2. General revenue dollars come from sales taxes and severance taxes and are not funded with Foundation School Program dollars allocated for public schools. The Senate passed SB 1 by a vote of 18-13.

The third special session has already been extended. A fourth is expected to be called if the legislature does not pass a school choice bill, according to the governor’s call.

After the Senate passed Creighton’s bills, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “A one-size-fits-all approach to education leaves many of our students behind, and parents deserve options other than just their local public school.

“Texans across the political spectrum agree that families must have choice in education to ensure their student has the best chance of success. Thirty-one states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C., offer education savings accounts for their students, and Texas students should not be left behind.”

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