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Politics

Texas Sen. Larry Taylor Unveils New School Finance Bill, Adding $5,000 Teacher Pay Raise

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Emree Weaver
/
The Texas Tribune
Sen. Larry Taylor said the bill would "significantly improve equity" within the school finance system.

After a long wait, the Texas Senate has finally unveiled a thorough proposal for how to tackle school finance and school property tax reform — bringing back several ideas the House already nixed.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, explained the proposal in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday but said the committee he chairs would not vote on it until next week, giving lawmakers more time to workshop it. Many items in the bill come from a state school finance panel that met last year to determine recommendations for a public education overhaul this session.

"This bill implements every student-outcomes-oriented transformational reform and almost all the finance reforms offered by the school finance commission," Taylor said. "These changes significantly improve equity in the system."

The House earlier this month nearly unanimously passed House Bill 3, its take on school finance legislation, after months of public hearings and rewrites. Taylor released an unfinished version of Senate Bill 4 in early March, which was not revised until this week. Taylor said he plans to put the new language in HB 3.

Like the House's plan, the new Senate version would raise the base funding per student, which hasn't budged in four years, and would provide money for free full-day pre-K for low-income students. The Senate's base increase is smaller than the House's, upping the number by $740 per student — instead of $890 — from $5,140. Any increase would help mitigate the negative financial effects of the unpopular recapture program, known as "Robin Hood," which requires wealthier districts to help subsidize poor districts with lower property values.

It includes a $5,000 teacher pay raise for classroom teachers and librarians, originally passed unanimously on the Senate floor in Senate Bill 3 in early March. This would cost about $4 billion and is accounted for in the Senate's proposed budget.

Teacher pay has been a divisive issue between the House and the Senate, with the Senate prioritizing directed raises and the House giving districts more flexibility to spend additional money as they choose. The House passed a version of its school finance bill that would give all school employees across-the-board raises of about $1,388 on average statewide and designate additional money for raises to be given at districts' discretion.

The new Senate version includes a few items the House has since removed from its school finance legislation, mainly tying a portion of school district funding to test scores. Proponents of so-called "outcomes-based funding" argue it will incentivize districts to better prepare students academically; opponents say it would attach higher stakes to standardized tests.

School districts could get between $1,000 and $4,000 per student based on the number of third graders who do well either on the state's standardized test or an alternative test chosen by the state. They also could get between $3,000 and $5,000 per student based on the number of students who graduated ready for college, a career or the military. In both cases, districts with more high-achieving low-income students would get more money.

The chambers have also differed on merit pay for teachers. The House removed a portion that would provide money for districts that wanted to rate their teachers and provide the top-rated ones with more money.

Teachers unions and associations have argued the provision would open the door to districts rating teachers based on state standardized test scores, attaching higher stakes to flawed tests.

The Senate's version appears to require school districts to use metrics beyond just standardized test scores to rate their teachers. And it would pay districts more to recruit high-rated teachers to struggling schools as a way to turn them around — modeled on a Dallas ISD program that Abbott has touted.

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