Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced today a batch of proposals for the special session that he claimed would improve teacher pay and benefits while improving school funding. He spoke of how important teachers are and said he wanted to see average teacher pay go up by $8,000, wanted teachers to receive “longevity bonuses” of $600 or more based on years of service, and wanted similar bonuses for retirees. In addition, retired teachers should get some relief from the harsh benefit cuts and rising costs many face for their health-care plan, Patrick said. He also recycled some ideas from the regular session for selective aid to certain districts facing financial hardship, plus his pet project of funding charter schools’ facilities.
The catch is that Patrick does not want to spend much of any new state money to carry out these proposals. He said most everything on his wish list could be paid for merely by “reprioritizing” existing education funds. That led Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro to comment as follows in a press release:
Dan Patrick’s unfunded plan for school finance and teacher pay is not a serious proposal
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s numbers just didn’t add up to a serious school-finance plan today as he threw out a flurry of proposals for increased teacher compensation without offering any new state money to pay for them.
Professing his devotion to funding for education and teachers, Patrick quoted the Bible: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” But in reality he is insisting that our schools do more with less—that they make bricks without straw.
For all the rhetoric he used, what his proposals come down to is no new money for education. Instead, educators are directed to reprioritize existing funds. School districts would be asked to stretch already thin budgets even more.
In essence, he’s saying let’s pretend we have more dollars to work with, and then we can pretend to give teachers more money.
The Texas Legislature should increase per-pupil funding so that school districts can meet students’ needs.
In a way, it’s good to see the lieutenant governor rushing to get ahead of the parade that seems to be forming at the Capitol in support of a better deal for teachers and school retirees on pay and benefits. As noted in the July 12 Hotline, several good bills that actually would pay for benefit and salary improvements already have been filed for the special session. But the test of politicians’ seriousness about this issue is whether they are willing to back their proposals with real, new state dollars.
After Patrick held his press conference this morning, in which he denounced House Speaker Joe Straus for backing actual increases in state funding for schools, Straus chose not to respond in kind but still got his point across. Straus said: “It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform. Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session.”