AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Teachers and education supporters rallied at the Capitol Monday to demand lawmakers raise pay for school district employees and put more money into public schools across Texas.
The rally, led by teacher unions Texas AFT and the Texas State Teachers Association, comes as both chambers of the state legislature have now released their initial plans to tackle school finance this session.
The Senate’s plan — filed Friday — is vague. Much of the language is placeholder, as senators continue to obtain input from educators. The upper chamber has already passed an across-the-board $5,000 pay raise for teachers and librarians.
The new legislation, Senate Bill 4, accomplishes four main objectives. It aims to prepare more students for college, careers and the military by expanding technical education programs. It would also create an educator effectiveness program to determine merit-based pay raises.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who serves on the Senate education committee, said the incentive pay program has been “a difficult issue in the past.”
“But Dallas ISD has come up with a system that works,” said Hughes. “Longview ISD, that I represent, has a system that other districts are looking out and learning from.”
The bill also puts an emphasis on early childhood learning.
“They tell us until grade 3 we are learning to read and after that we are reading to learn,” Hughes said. “So if a child is not learning a grade level by the third grade, they could have some real challenges. Most of them will have real challenges.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, said he was glad lawmakers would have more time to refine Senate Bill 4.
“There are obviously differences in opinions on what we can do on each side,” Lucio said. “Hopefully we can all get together and agree on a bill that will be helpful all the way around.”
Louis Malfaro, president of Texas AFT, said the Senate’s new plan is not enough.
“We see some promise but significant room for improvement.”
The House plan, unveiled last week, would increase funding per student, establish full-day Pre-K, and dedicate money for students with dyslexia and other learning challenges. It also raises teacher salary minimums and raise schedules.
“We cannot hide behind differences between the different chamber’s perspective and approach, they have a responsibility to resolve those differences,” said Malfaro. “We support an across-the-board raise for all employees. We support full funding for schools flowed through the formulas and neither of those bills is adequate to ultimately meet the full needs of our schools.”
Hughes said: “I’m optimistic that by the end of the session we are going to see broad agreement for a significant pay raise across the board for every teacher, on top of that incentive pay program that we know is going to work.”
“I hope at the end we’re able to get together and work out those problematic areas where we can find middle ground and get a bill out that will be good for our children and for the taxpayer and also plan for the future,” said Lucio.
The Senate plan does not have a formal price tag on it yet. The overall House plan puts about $9 billion dollars into the state’s education system.