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Will teachers get a $15K salary boost? Dems urge across-the-board raises as debate begins

School support staff would see pay bumps of 25%.

Update: Adds link to Democrats' bill.

AUSTIN — House Democrats on Tuesday filed a bill that would provide Texas teachers with a $15,000, across-the-board pay raise.

House Bill 1548, the measure introduced by Austin Democratic Rep. James Talarico, would give school districts enough money to grant $1,500-a-month salary bumps for teachers, librarians, counselors and school nurses.

Other school employees would get a 25% pay increase.

Texas teachers are paid $7,500 a year less than the national average, Talarico noted at a Capitol news conference.

“It’s no wonder that thousands of educators are leaving the profession,” he said. “We have an emergency teacher shortage in the state and it requires emergency action by the Legislature.”

Public education advocates warn of a potential exodus of teachers, many of whom report high levels of stress as they contend with pandemic-triggered learning loss, low pay and culture war attacks from hard-line Republicans.

While the Democrats’ proposal is unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled Legislature, the bill’s supporters said they hoped it would start what they called an urgent conversation about teacher pay.

In a move attractive to school administrators, especially in rural and smaller districts, the bill also would increase the state’s minimum salary schedule. For new teachers, the state’s minimum salary would increase to $48,660 a year. The state’s current minimum salary schedule for a 10-month contract is $33,660, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Given the lower average teacher salary in rural districts, the $15,000 raise would be a higher percentage increase in pay for rural teachers, Talarico said.

“It’s why we hope we’re going to get bipartisan support,” he said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio noted that Republicans who control the Legislature have signaled that in order to use some of a record-breaking surplus, without busting a tax spending cap approved by Texas voters nearly 45 years ago, they want to put proposed one-time “investments” into constitutional amendments.

Such amendments require a two-thirds vote in each chamber, said Martinez Fischer, who appeared at the press conference with Talarico.

“We’re going to get to a juncture where we may need more than a simple majority to pass something, and that’s when we’ll have something to say about that,” said Martinez Fischer, who leads 64 Democrats in a 150-member chamber. “So I think you can add this measure to the top of our list of things that we want to discuss before we take big votes like that.”

Talarico and Irving Democratic Rep. Terry Meza, both former schoolteachers, said they hope to attract bipartisan support for the pay raise bill. They noted that the bill would take the average teacher salary in Texas from about $56,000 now to nearly $74,000, vaulting it to the seventh-highest state on teacher pay.

“This bill aims to make Texas one of the best places in the country when it comes to teacher quality and school quality,” Meza said.

Together with a projected cash carryover from the current budget cycle of nearly $33 billion, the state should enjoy strong revenue growth in the next two years, according to Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

Talarico estimated the Legislature has about $47 billion of “unused funds” it could spend this session. While precise costs of his bill haven’t been determined, it apparently would use as much as $20 billion or more over the two-year cycle that begins Sept. 1.

“Hoarding this surplus while educators and children are suffering is immoral,” he said.

Four years ago, while House GOP leaders and Gov. Greg Abbott were pushing the concept of teacher merit pay, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wanted across-the-board raises as well. Ultimately, lawmakers revamped school finance in ways that increased both the minimum salary schedule and how much money districts had to improve teacher pay and benefits.

“I’m proud that we gave teachers the biggest raise in history, and we’re going to do that again because it should be a profession and not a job,” Patrick said in his inaugural speech last week.

The Senate’s starting point state budget for 2024-25 makes a vague pledge “to provide increased compensation and benefits for classroom teachers.” The House’s lists that as one of several goals for unspecified “public education funding increases.”

On Tuesday, Patrick spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment on House Democrats’ plan. House GOP Caucus Chairman Craig Goldman of Fort Worth also declined to discuss Talarico’s proposal.

Roughly three-quarters of Texas teachers said they have seriously considered leaving the profession because of a lack of respect and support, a fall poll from the Charles Butt Foundation found.

The state had 376,086 classroom teachers in the 2021-22 school year, according to Texas Education Agency data. Nearly 12% of them left the profession that year, up from about 10% in other recent years.

To combat recent staffing shortages, many districts have offered one-time retention and recruitment bonuses. Teacher groups expressed gratitude but also said they’re looking for long-term solutions.

Abbott assembled a Teacher Vacancy Task Force to look into potential fixes. The group is expected to have its recommendations finalized by next month.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said she will always support increased funding for educator pay. But the chief of Texas’ second-largest district said she’d also like to see local leadership given flexibility in how to allocate extra dollars.

In DISD, for example, a pay-for-performance teacher evaluation system determines salaries. Skilled teachers can then get bonuses if they choose to work at struggling schools, which often struggle to recruit experienced educators.

Elizalde said she wants to increase stipends for teachers who work at those schools.

“Anytime we can increase teacher and support staff pay, yes, we want to be on board,” she said Tuesday. “We also want it to be aligned with the fact that we reward those who are producing.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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