The legislative session began with a $32.7 billion budget surplus, record-breaking staff turnover, and a TEA Teacher Vacancy Task Force report that directly pointed to educator raises as a necessary strategy to keep educators in the classroom. Yet the legislative session ended last month with $0 in guaranteed raises for educators. Despite all this money on the table and the clearly demonstrated need, educators got nothing this legislative session.
Not only did legislators ignore the findings of the state’s own task force, they also ignored you. Over the 140-day legislative session, hundreds of educators made the journey to Austin from across the state. With a united voice, these hundreds of educators had a message for legislators: “put some respect in my paycheck.” Yet this simple and incredibly reasonable request seemed to go unheard.
Unpacking the Legislature
Read our other breakdowns of public education issues:
In this week’s edition of “Unpacking the Legislature” we explain how this happened, what legislators are saying now, and what to expect next.
What Passed … or Didn’t
The core building block for school funding is the basic allotment, the state’s foundational contribution to public education. The basic allotment has been stuck at $6,160 since the 2019-2020 school year, despite the fact that inflation has increased by almost 20% in that time period.
The basic allotment is distributed on a per-student basis, but, importantly, funds are distributed based on students’ average daily attendance, not on schools’ actual enrollment. Tying funding to attendance instead of actually measuring the number of students a school serves results in hundreds of thousands of students going uncounted when distributing basic allotment funds. Currently, Texas is one of only six states that use attendance-based funding.
To the point of employee pay, it’s important to remember that an increase in basic allotment would automatically trigger raises for teachers and support staff.
Though certain bills proposed during the session would have altered this formula, current statute states that 30% of any increase in basic allotment funds that school districts receive must go to employee raises. Of that 30%, 75% must go to full-time certified employees (including teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians), and 25% must go to other full-time employees.
At the beginning of the legislative session, many school finance bills were filed that would have significantly improved conditions for public educators in Texas. HB 882 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and SB 88 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) would have increased the basic allotment to $7,075, putting the figure close to where it should have been set if it had kept up with inflation. Those bills would also have automatically increased the basic allotment from one year to the next to keep up with inflation.
Several bills, including HB 31 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), HB 1376 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), and HB 2841 by Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford), meanwhile, were filed to transition Texas from attendance-based funding to a more equitable system of enrollment-based funding.
Several bills also would have directly increased educator pay without increasing basic allotment funds. HB 1548 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Austin) and SB 693 by Sen. Morgan LaMantia (D-South Padre Island) would have provided certified educators with a $15,000 raise and classified educators with a 25% raise.
None of these bills received a committee hearing.
On March 10, the final day to file bills, it became clear that HB 100 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) was the primary school finance bill supported by leadership in the Texas House. That bill went through several iterations as it made its way through the legislative process. HB 100, as it was originally passed by the Texas House, has several good (if not quite good enough) provisions, including a basic allotment increase to $6,250 for the 2023-2024 school year and to at least $6,300 the following year.
But even this proposal, a much more modest increase that was supported by Republican leadership in the Texas House, failed to pass thanks to a last-minute attempt by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate to privatize education, hijacking HB 100 with a massive private school voucher.
Why It Happened
HB 100 died because the Texas Senate wanted to use your pay raise to subsidize its private school voucher schemes. Unfortunately, it is that simple.
When the Senate received HB 100, Sen. Brandon Creighton, chair of the Senate Education Committee, picked up the bill to be its Senate sponsor. For weeks, Creighton didn’t move the bill at all. But with less than 24 hours notice, Creighton effectively tore up the version of HB 100 sent over by the House and substituted completely separate language in its stead. That new language included a private school voucher program.
Creighton was the author of SB 8, the lieutenant governor’s priority voucher bill. Despite “shady dealings” late in the legislative session to revive the voucher bill, the bill simply did not have adequate support in the House, and it died. Refusing to accept the will of the House, Creighton and Senate leadership decided to graft the language from SB 8 onto HB 100. In order to compensate for the increased cost due to the voucher, the Senate lowered the proposed basic allotment increase from $6,250 to just $6,210, reducing public school funding (and potential pay raises) by billions of dollars.
The Senate passed this bill, but the Texas House refused to accept these changes. The bill, as it passed the House, was intended to increase public school funding, not create a private school voucher program. Pro-public education representatives on both sides of the aisle stayed firm to their commitment to public education and the general integrity of the legislative process.
What Legislators Are Saying
In response to senators meddling with his bill, Rep. Ken King released a powerful statement defending the House version of HB 100 and blaming the Senate for tanking the bill with its private school voucher. The statement signaled that King, an important leader on public education issues in the Texas House, intended to stand strong against vouchers during any special sessions the governor might call.
For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet called a special session on school funding or vouchers, but he has continued to vocally support private school vouchers. During a talk last Friday with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a right-wing think tank that has been staunchly supportive of school privatization, Abbott said he intended to call a special session on the issue of private school vouchers.
While Abbott did not mention whether there would be a special session to deal with school finance, it seems as though those two issues have been inextricably linked by enemies of public education. These two goals are in inherent opposition to each other. Funding private school vouchers necessarily diverts funds away from public schools. In order to save our schools, these issues must be unlinked.
What to Expect Next
Special sessions are called by the governor. He has sole discretion over when a special session is called and over what is on that call (i.e. which topics could be legislated). However, it is still the duty of legislators to craft the bills, and the Legislature has discretion over which bills it actually chooses to pass.
We have heard that it is likely that a special session to address private school vouchers would also address public school funding and, by extension, school employee pay.
When he announced the first special legislative session to deal with property taxes and border security, Abbott stated that this would just be the first of “several” special sessions. During his talk with TPPF, he suggested that a legislative session to deal with private school vouchers would occur after the property tax issue was resolved.
It is unclear just how soon he means, just as it remains unclear how quickly the current property tax disagreements will be resolved in the first place. Recent reports have suggested that a special session to deal with vouchers and school funding would likely be called in September.
Rumors have also circulated that the governor is intentionally targeting September in order to make it more difficult for teachers and school employees to come to the Capitol and speak out against vouchers and for public education funding. In Abbott’s mind, it seems a summer special session, while many public school employees are not working their full-time jobs, would make it far too easy for educators to make their voices heard on key issues that affect them.
We, of course, would remind the governor that our members were hard at work in May too, and yet he left the 88th Legislature without the voucher program he so desperately demanded.
Even when their pay raises were taken hostage, Texas educators and school staff stood firm against defunding public schools through voucher scams. They did what they do every single day: put the needs of their students above all else.