Many are calling this year’s legislative session “the year of the teacher.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they are making teacher pay and school finance reform top priorities, and late last week the Texas House Democratic Caucus laid out its $14.5 billion education plan. Meanwhile, lege observers are awaiting the arrival of a House Republican school finance bill. So what’s in the Democratic proposal, and how might it square with the forthcoming Republican plan?
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat from Austin and a former president of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, says the Democrats’ “Texas Kids First Plan” would pay for full-day pre-K.
“It is a goal that, in fact, our current governor identified about two sessions ago,” Hinojosa says. “And yet we still haven’t been able to get there.”
Hinojosa says full-day pre-K has bipartisan support at the Capitol this session, and she hopes it can get the votes needed to pass. In addition to pre-K funding, Hinojosa says the Democrats’ education plan would also add cost-of-living adjustments and inflation protection into the school finance system.
“What’s happening is that the reality of inflation is being borne on the backs of our school districts, our educators and our kids,” Hinojosa says.
Hinojosa says the difference between the Democrats’ plan and the Republican proposal in the Senate is that Democrats have added money to address rising health care costs for teachers.
“We’re putting $100 a month in the pocket of our school employees to help pay for that health care cost,” she says.
Additionally, Hinojosa says Democrats would use money from the rainy day fund to add money to the troubled Teacher Retirement System, or TRS. The rainy day money would be a one-time stabilization payment for TRS, Hinojosa says.
“We owe a debt to our teachers, and we need to make sure that we honor that,” she says.
Democrats would also use the rainy day fund to provide a one-time $500 reimbursement to teachers who spend their own money to purchase school supplies for their classrooms.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.