Lloyd Doggett

05/26/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/26/2023 10:07

Austin American-Statesman: Schools see small budget gains

Austin American-Statesman: Schools see small budget gains

May 26, 2023

By: Keri Heath

Austin American-Statesman USA TODAY NETWORK

Measures that proposed teacher pay raises have stalled

After lofty proposals of $10,000 teacher pay raises and $900 increases to per pupil funding at the beginning of the legislative session, Texas lawmakers revealed an updated budget proposal Thursday that provides paltry increases to public school funding.

Key bills that proposed teacher raises or per pupil funding increases have stalled or perished within the last few weeks of the session, leaving many education advocates frustrated as many districts, like Austin, stare down the barrel of significant budget deficits.

The vast majority of the $5 billion left to inject into public schools is now contingent on a House bill that has shaky chances of passing after the Senate added a controversial school choice provision to the legislation.

District officials' most ardent request - a raise to the $6,160 per pupil funding rate - is absent from the latest budget draft.

The newly revised document proposes no such increase to the student funding rate, although superintendents from across Texas have insisted they need at least $900 to keep up with inflation.

The frustration among education advocates was palpable Thursday.

"Is this a joke?" said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. "Congratulations to Commissioner Mike Morath, the only person associated with Texas public education to receive a pay raise in this budget."

The budget listed a salary cap of $375,000 for Morath, though the TEA specified in a statement he would not be accepting a salary increase to his $220,374.84 salary.

With less than a week left to pass bills, key legislation that would have invested billions in public education appears to be spiraling toward an unsuccessful finish.

House Bill 100 by Rep. Ken King, RCanadian, proposes to increase per pupil funding by $140 - to $6,300 - over two years. That bill, however, could stall after the Senate added a $500 million controversial school choice program, which the House has signaled strong opposition to.

Gov. Greg Abbott has expended significant political capital pushing the school choice program, which would make public funds available to parents to pay for private school tuition. The governor warned lawmakers he'd call a special session if necessary later this year to pass an education savings accounts bill, a form of school vouchers.

About $4 billion for the TEA and $86 million for retired teachers is contingent on the passage of HB 100.

Other proposals to give teachers raises have failed in the last few days.

Senate Bill 9, by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Canadian, would have spent $722 million on giving teachers bonuses and pumping more money into a performance-based salary increase program for educators.

The bill is effectively dead, however, after the House on Wednesday postponed action on the measure in a show of frustration against the upper chamber, whose members have tacked on controversial Senate priorities on House bills - such as HB 100.

The revised budget did include $1.1 billion for school safety measures.

Another $330 million could go toward safety measures in schools if the two chambers can agree on amendments added to HB 3, which would tighten safety auditing requirements for schools and provide $15,000 per campus on top of a per-student amount. The two chambers haven't agreed on that amount.

The budget also includes $2 million to implement a library book program in HB 900, which would require vendors to rate books they sell to schools and bans any books deemed sexually explicit. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday.

The TEA is slated to get $74.6 million to offset a loss of federal funding that the U.S. Department of Education is withholding because the state lowered its special education funding, which is a violation of federal law.

Both the House and the Senate still have to agree on the finalized version of the budget. The last day of the 88th legislative session is Monday.