The Texas House of Representatives voted for a measure Thursday that would require teachers to receive a $6,000 pay raise before school property taxes could be further reduced.
The proposal, which still must be approved by the state Senate, was immediately labeled an appropriate step by Stephenville ISD Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd.
“I think that it is a great idea for legislators to fund teacher salary increases before they do anything else, especially given the unsure nature of public school finance in future years,” Floyd said.
Floyd said the state is still trying to “figure out exactly how last legislative session’s tax compression mandate, combined with the new business tax, will affect school funding.”
“And to further compress tax rates without really knowing how all of this new school finance system will ultimately shake out in the future would be foolish,” Floyd said. “I am very much in favor of the Legislature funding teacher pay raises now, and in the future. It shows good-faith support of our hard-working educators.
“However, if I were a teacher in the state of Texas today, I wouldn’t go out and spend that $6,000 pay raise right away,” Floyd said. “The check is a long way from in the mail.”
There’s no money in the bill for the teacher pay raise, which also would apply to full-time librarians, counselors and school nurses.
Democratic Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco added the teacher pay provision, with the overwhelming approval of the House. It essentially thwarts the proposed tax reduction, which would have taken property tax rates from $1 per $100 valuation down to 91 cents.
“It does get in the way of the tax cut. That’s exactly what it’s designed to do,” said Rep. Ken Paxton, the McKinney Republican who pushed the tax reduction proposal. He said he hopes the legislation can be restored to its original intent when it reaches the Senate.
Texas legislators reduced school property taxes last year from a maximum $1.50 down to $1 as part of a school finance package.
The new proposal by Paxton and several other influential Republicans would have given the additional tax cut beginning in September. It would have cost the state an estimated $2.5 billion over the two-year budget cycle.
Dunnam and other Democrats argued there were more pressing needs for the money.
“This is where you put your money where your mouth is,” Dunnam said, urging fellow House members to side with him on the teacher raise amendment. “My fourth-grader understands it _ she understands her teacher ought to get paid.”
House members voted 113-25 in favor of the amendment, with some of those who spoke against it even voting for the politically popular proposal. Then the House voted 131-5 for preliminary approval of the overall Paxton bill.
Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick noted afterward that the Legislature last year in a special session approved a $2,000 pay raise for teachers, counselors, librarians and school nurses.
“I think that the members of the House are very supportive of a teacher pay raise, and I think they’re very supportive of a property tax cut,” Craddick said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.