The senators who helped get SB3 passed this session think they have everyone figured out: promise a $5,000 raise to teachers and librarians and all is well.
They believe it proves they view teachers (and librarians) as a priority.
And anyone who dares oppose their bill or claim that there's a better option, well...you get met with this:
"You're not smart enough to be for this bill..."
I mean, geez. A little heavy on the harsh-o-meter there, Senator Whitmire.
It's a fairly risky move to oppose a bill that funds a direct pay increase for teachers and librarians. But that's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to do so with two brief points.
1) The Texas Legislature has a history of making this exact promise---teacher/educator raises---and then letting that promise fall to the districts by the next legislative session.
Two bills---one ten years ago, the other twenty---both promising raises for various full-time educators.
Both provided the funding until the end of the biennium and then the responsibility for covering the raises was pushed to the school districts.
And for some reason we're supposed to think this would be any different?
If you look at the specific language used in SB4 from 1999, HB3646 from 2009, and then SB3 from 2019, you'll notice some eerie similarities:
Twenty years. Three bills. Basically the same language.
The first two bills were funded through their respective bienniums and then shifted to the districts.
Anyone placing bets on how they'll handle SB3 from this legislative session?
2) The statements given by Senator Jane Nelson regarding the longevity of such funding weren't exactly confidence boosting.
After introducing SB3 to the Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Nelson received a question from Senator Royce West dealing directly with how this bill might be funded in the future:
"As long as I'm sitting in this Senate, our teachers are going to be a priority...it's all about priorities...I would hope that every future legislature would believe the same thing...I would suggest that there are going be some bridges that can't get built that session (in order to continue the funding)...(teacher raises) should be one of the very last things we look to not continue..."
"I can't promise for every future legislature..."
Anyone else just bursting with confidence?
Making promises, especially those related to people's financial livelihoods, and following those promises with hopes and suggestions is not a good way to develop legislation that deals with funding our schools.
The only thing that leads to is inconsistent funding, and that is exactly what we'd like to avoid when trying to provide our students with the best educational experience possible.
Look, let's just be honest. Here's where we are: educators in Texas are a force. And everyone---elected officials included---is beginning to recognize just how big of a force we truly are.
The mid-terms made that very clear.
This $5,000 is a payoff.
Am I saying that some of the senators behind the bill don't have absolutely solid and honest motivations behind creating this bill?
Most definitely not. I believe Senator Nelson, in particular, has very true motives. She cares about educators.
But this raise, if included in a final school finance package at the end of this session, will be funded by the state for one year and then we will be in a sticky situation, and here's why:
You don't really hear about districts reducing salaries by $5,000 just because the state no longer provided the funding.
No, instead what you hear about are things like:
- Over-crowded classrooms
- Fewer classroom materials
- Less frequent external PD options
- Fewer instructional aides
- Fewer program options for students
- Reduced/limited stipends
- Not enough technology
- Fewer instructional coaches
- Not enough counselors
- Not enough Special Education support
This $5,000 raise comes at the cost of $4 billion to the state. If this funding is directly tied to increasing teacher and librarian salaries, that is $4 billion that is not going to be able to improve any of the above list.
And once districts are expected to now cover that cost, all of the above list just gets worse.
It's basic budgeting.
If I have $50 to spend, I can either buy a new video game or I can buy a new pair of shoes. I can't do both.
Similarly, either a district can continue the $5,000 at the conclusion of the state's support by diverting funds from other areas, or they can discontinue the raises and continue to support other needs.
Of course, back to my $50 analogy: I could always buy a cheaper game and cheaper shoes, but apply that mindset to to education and, well, that's kind of scary just to think about what that would mean.
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