Your weekly briefing on teacher pay, school funding and charter school news

Your Weekly Briefing

Texas House representatives from the Democratic Caucus
outline their school-finance proposals Thursday.

With just over three months to go in the 86th Texas Legislative Session, there are still far more questions than answers about the future of public-school finance and increased educator pay.

While SB 2, which would limit revenues for local government, quickly passed out of Senate committee, neither chamber has released a school finance plan. Texas AFT is deeply concerned about prioritizing tax gimmicks over our school children. Help make sure this session really is about education by joining educators from all over the state at our March to the Capitol on March 11.

In other news, this week:

  • The House Public Education Committee heard bills for the first time on Tuesday, ranging from creating some single-member districts on the Fort Bend School Board to providing additional training and staff development for educators of special education students. Texas AFT also supported HB 102 by Vice Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which would provide a high-quality mentorship program along with a stipend for the mentor teachers.
  • Lawmakers discussed the impacts of a potential $9 billion increase in funding for education Wednesday in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III.  Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) spoke for all of us when she suggested this increase in the House base budget would not be enough to make up for past cuts. House members also raised questions about how charter operators impact local school district budgets, as well as questions on funding for pre-kindergarten, and how to best address special education funding needs. Subcommittee members also were briefed about the health of the Teacher Retirement System, which faces a $35 billion unfunded actuarial liability after the TRS board decreased the fund’s expected rate of return from 8 percent to 7.2 percent.
  • Yesterday, the House Democratic Caucus released its school finance plan, which calls for $14.5 billion in new funding for public schools, full-day pre-k, and an increase in compensation for all teachers and support staff. Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro praised the work of the Caucus: “The proposals presented today help put the conversation at the Capitol where it needs to be, on making a significant investment in our students and all the school employees who work tirelessly each day to educate our kids. The other key difference in this plan is that it specifically excludes the misuse of student standardized test scores to determine teacher pay, and instead recognizes that the base pay for all school employees needs to be increased. We’re glad to hear that their agenda also addresses the soaring prices paid by school employees for health care, since those costs have eaten away at the minimal salary increases at the local level.”

The week ahead

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee will consider SB 3, by Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) which would provide classroom teachers with a $5,000 salary bump. We are happy to report this proposal is for an across-the-board pay raise. Texas AFT will be at the hearing to support a permanent raise and ask for the same increase for all members of the education team. However, we will be asking Chairwoman Nelson to remove permissive language in the bill that allows additional “merit pay” on top of the raise, which could tie other salary increases to unreliable standardized tests. We will also encourage lawmakers to fund any additional TRS costs created by the raise as well.

On Tuesday, the House Public Education Committee will hear a slew of bills, including HB 92, by. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), which would allow campus turnaround plans to use the community school model—a proposal Texas AFT has long championed.

Great Bill Alert

With the flood of legislation that continues to flow in advance of the March 8 bill-filing deadline, we hope you didn’t miss HB 43 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), which would forbid charter schools from discriminating against applicants on the basis of their discipline history. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are not required by law to accept all students and may exclude any student with any discipline history—no matter how minor. This effectively discriminates against certain student groups, such as those needing special education services, with a disproportionate percentage of disciplinary actions and has led to fewer students with special needs compared to school districts. Rep. Hinojosa’s bill is a critical step for putting charter operators on par with traditional public schools.

We’ll be back with another Weekly Briefing next Friday!