The Texas legislature has come under intense scrutiny for its recently released conference committee report on the state budget for the next two years. The budget bill, known as HB1, has sparked controversy due to its failure to allocate funds for teacher pay raises and an increase in the basic allotment for students.
With a staggering total of $321.3 billion in appropriations, including $144 billion in General Revenue, the budget bill failed to address key issues in the public education system – an omission that has left educators and their supporters disheartened.
President of the Texas AFT, Zeph Capo, released an angry statement congratulating the Texas Legislature for managing to only give TEA Commissioner Mike Morath a pay raise.
“Is this a joke? Congratulations to Commissioner Morath, the only person associated with TX public education to receive a pay raise in this budget,” said Capo.
According to HB1, Commissioners Morath’s salary would rise from $220,375 to $325,000, however, hours after the budget was released, TEA released a correction saying the Commissioner would not be accepting a raise.
“The Commissioner has never requested or accepted a pay increase, nor will he,” said TEA’s statement. To which Texas AFT responded: “Great! We know many educators in Texas who would be happy to accept this raise if the commissioner feels he doesn’t need it.
Since the finalized HB1 does not offer immediate solutions for teacher pay raises or a basic allotment increase, all hope rests on the progress of House Bill 100, the education priority bill – which thanks to the Senate now includes a voucher amendment.
The revised version of HB 100, which will be headed to conference committee, includes a $50 increase in the basic allotment, which currently stands at $6,160. This increase is smaller than the original $90 proposed by the House. The bill also raises the required state funding percentage for teacher raises from 30% to 50%, allowing the rest to be used for other school expenses. It updates the base salary scale for teachers based on experience and incorporates provisions from other bills to address the state’s teacher shortage. Furthermore, the bill allocates funds to support teacher residencies, rehiring retired teachers, and provides $300 million in special education funding.
One controversial aspect of HB100 is the inclusion of a voucher program that would expand educational options for Texas students. Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority item, a voucher-like program, has continually failed to get passed through the House, meaning HB100 could fail to pass altogether if the Senate is not willing to strip the voucher amendment.
“Education savings accounts are likely to kill the whole bill,” said Sen. Nathan Johnson, on Tuesday, after trying to stop the Senate from passing HB100 with a voucher amendment. House legislators are also angry with the Senate for putting them in this position. As Rep. James Talarico put it best: “it’s unconscionable during the worst teacher shortage the state has ever seen that the Senate would hold hostage pay raises for teachers to pass their voucher program.”
HB100 would offer up to $8,000 in taxpayer money per student each year for parents who choose to opt out of the public school system, with funds eligible for private schooling expenses, textbooks, and tutoring.
The bill sets aside $500M of the budget for vouchers.
“My concern is that the half billion dollars that you have set aside for this voucher program, could be money used for the public education system,” said Sen. José Menéndez, before the Senate passed HB100, Tuesday night.