FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2005
(AUSTIN) - The Texas Legislature continues to grapple with the task of reforming the public school finance system in order to give homeowners property tax relief while providing school districts with the necessary funding to operate their schools. A committee substitute for Senate Bill 2, which is aimed at reforming how school dollars are spent, was adopted by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday (June 23). Senator Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted against the substitute.
"I support the premise of providing homeowners some level of property tax relief. I am very concerned, however, with the negative impact this bill will have on school programs, teachers and the costs associated with educating our school children," said Senator Zaffirini, a member of the Education Committee since 1989. "While homeowners will be happy to have a few more dollars in their pocket, the quality of education their children receive will be hurt as a result of that small rebate."
Included in the bill is the elimination or reduction of certain weights and formulas that help provide funding for programs such as career and technology and gifted and talented. Any such funding would be made available through a block grant type of mechanism. Funding for the Instructional Facilities Allotment, which assists poor school districts that cannot afford facilities debt without raising taxes prohibitively, would increase to $25 million. The increase is only $5 million more than last biennium, when there was an unprecedented $10 billion budget shortfall.
As adopted, CSSB 2 would provide teachers with a $1,500 pay raise, leaving them below the national average with the possibility of receiving an additional $500 through teacher incentive programs. Additionally, a school district would be required to pay for a portion of the pay increase from increased funds the district received.
"While this is a step in the right direction, I know many education professionals will be disappointed that this falls short of raising their pay to the national average as we had promised," Senator Zaffirini said. "Teacher incentive programs should only be implemented once teachers' base pay is at the national average. If we truly want to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers for our classrooms, we need to at least provide them with the means to care for themselves and their own families without forcing schools to give up more dollars."
Other of Senator Zaffirini's concerns include:
- Requiring all districts to reduce tax rates by a fixed percentage even if the mandated compression places districts below tax rates necessary to receive full accreditation allotments;
- Eliminating transportation allotments for certain routes, including those for special education students and those students living along hazardous routes;
- Implementing additional testing in the form of end-of-course exams; and
- Creating a temporary certificate for administrators for anyone who possesses a bachelor's degree and "significant" management experience.
"The end result of this bill is that we expect our students to learn more while eliminating funding for programs that help educate and even transport them to their schools," Senator Zaffirini said. "It is important that this debate not be exclusively about property tax reduction. A plan also must increase state funding so that we provide our students, teachers and administrators in every school district with the resources necessary to meet the high standards set by our accountability system."