Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick unveiled a bold school finance overhaul he plans to push during the special session that begins next week.
If passed, Patrick’s plan would substantially increase teacher salaries by prioritizing them over bloated school administrations, provide longevity bonuses to current and retired teachers, and also lay the groundwork for the dismantling of Robin Hood.
For decades now, Texas’ school finance system has been a source of constant frustration for everyday Texans and lawmakers alike – being the source of scores of lawsuits and subsequent tinkering around the edges. As a result the state has a system that makes nobody happy.
Conservatives want to repeal Robin Hood, a controversial part of the law in which “property wealthy” school districts must remit a portion of the local property taxes they collect so that they can be redistributed to “property poor districts.” They also want to decentralize the system, by increasing the freedom and ability of parents to choose the school best for their child whether it is a public, charter, private, or home school.
Gov. Abbott’s agenda for the special session includes both issues, the formation of a school finance commission to generate ideas to repeal Robin Hood as well as increasing educational choice for parents of children with special needs. He’s also added two more issues – reformulating teacher pay so that it is based more on merit (funded by cutting bureaucratic administrations) and increasing the administrative flexibility of school districts to hire good teachers and remove bad eggs.
During the regular session, House Speaker Joe Straus and Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty (R–Kingwood) advanced a “school finance reform” bill that largely amounted to throwing more money at the problem—money that the state didn’t have.
Patrick referred to the Straus/Huberty plan as a “Ponzi scheme” due to the fact that it was largely financed by deferring a payment to school districts into the next biennium, and pointed reporters to a media interview last week where Huberty admitted, “I get that there’s no money.”
“Taking money from one pocket to put it in another pocket is not a plan, it’s a stunt,” said Patrick.
Now, Patrick is pitching his own plan that, in alignment with Abbott’s priority for the special session, injects additional state money into teacher salaries while also requiring school districts to rework their budgets so that teacher pay is a higher priority.
“Teachers are the key,” said Patrick. “Buildings don’t educate students. Expensive stadiums don’t teach kids to read.”
The lt. governor noted that, since 2000, spending on public education has increased 108% while enrollment has only increased 32%. Teacher salaries are only up 35% during that time.
In essence, Patrick’s plan would establish annual longevity bonuses for current and retired teachers based off of years of service while also encouraging school districts to increase teacher pay as a percentage of their budget by five percent over the next four years. If schools would achieve that goal, it would lead to average teacher salaries of around $60,000 per year, up from around $52,000 per year currently. According to Patrick, the plan will be spearheaded by State Sens. Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound) and Larry Taylor (R–Friendswood) and primarily financed by dedicating revenues from the state lottery.
Patrick also noted that he was wearing his “20 for 20” pin and that he is in full support of Abbott’s entire agenda for the special session.
“I’m totally supporting the governor on all of his bills. His agenda is my agenda, it’s the people’s agenda,” said Patrick.