Shared from the 2/26/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Bill to raise teacher pay advances in Senate

Michael Minasi / Contributor

Public education advocates march for the Texas PTA’s Rally Day on Monday in Austin, where they pushed for school finance reform, school safety and money for special education.

AUSTIN — The chances of teachers beginning next school year with a pay raise increased Monday as a bill to boost their paychecks cleared its first legislative hurdle, but it’s just one of several competing proposals for increasing school funding.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee voted 15-0 to advance a plan to give every full-time teacher a $5,000 raise. The $3.7 billion plan was promised by Lt.Gov. Dan Patrick, who said the bill will be one of the first the entire Senate will take up this year, even as a labor group for teachers promised a rally in two weeks against it.

“Teachers currently receive only a third of the funding we send to our schools,” Patrick said in a statement. “It will provide an immediate financial boost for teachers, assist in retaining good teachers, and recruit the best and the brightest to this critical profession. I will be moving this bill to the floor and out of the Senate at the earliest possible date."

Other lawmakers have called for linking teacher salary increases to student performance, letting school districts decide who gets raises and how big they should be, or spreading the money to include raises for support staff.

As momentum builds for teacher pay raises, so is tension over how it should be done.

“Do our teachers want a pay raise? Of course they do. But they are not going to turn their backs on the team members that are crucial to making their work successful, and they’re going to be pushing for a pay raise for all school employees. Expect to hear that message loudly as our members gather by the thousands for a rally on the Capitol steps in two weeks,” said Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

Nationally, the average teacher pulled a salary of $60,483 in 2017-18, according to the National Education Association. In Texas, that figure was $53,167, making the state 29th in the country for teacher pay.

Gov. Greg Abbott and other high-ranking lawmakers say teachers should have the chance to make more than $100,000 a year, in part so good teachers are less likely to seek promotions that would take them out of the classroom.

Christina Rigby, PTA president at McMillen Junior High, said that’s common at the schools her seven children have gone through.

“I see some of our best teachers pulled into administration because that’s where they get paid what they deserve,” said Rigby, a five-year leader in her local PTA.

Some lawmakers have different ideas about how the money should be divvied out. House Democrats want to give all teachers a raise and a $500 one-time check to cover supplies they buy for their classrooms. Democrats also want the raise to reach all other school staff.

Part of the debate is centered on whether school districts should control how the pay raise money is spent.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, proposed a $6 billion bill Friday that would give school districts enough money to fund a$5,000 raise for each teacher, although school districts could decide to use merit or other factors to decide how much each teacher should get.

His proposal also gives districts additional money in per-pupil funding that the district can spend as it sees fit, such as with pay raises for school counselors or other support staff.

The House Education Committee is expected to unveil an omnibus school funding bill in the coming weeks, although it is unclear whether the group will bake a teacher pay proposal into that legislation.

“We’re losing good educators because they can’t make alivable wage,” said Courtney Jones, a special education teacher from near Waco who joined hundreds of teachers and parents lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol on Monday. “It’s not just about us, because we know as teachers we can’t do it alone.”

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