As Texas lawmakers tackle school reform in the 86th Legislative session, more parties in the education system are pleased to see amendments made to House Bill 3. One of those revisions includes a mandated pay raise.

House Bill 3 passed unanimously out of the Texas Senate in late March and would've have provided $5,000 to all full-time classroom teachers and librarians. On Wednesday, the bill also passed through the House, 148-1. However, it now mandates public schools to issue an across-the-board pay-raises of $1,850 to all full-time employees who are not administrators and to do so within two years.

This amendment to the bill is more pleasing to local districts as funds are allocated across all demographics of full-time employment.

When Andrea Jones, Red Oak High intervention and support counselor, initially heard the bill disregarded counselors, she said, “It was hard not to be offended. It was hard not to feel overlooked. It was hard not to defend the position of what our role is and how important we are and how much gets done.”

Jones agreed that counselors and nurses play a prominent role on campuses and said she feels valued, important and noticed now that other demographics are included in the pay raises for HB3.

Jones has 26 years of experience as a school counselor and has worked in ROISD for the past six. She noted the time and money counselors invested as a master’s degree in counseling is required by the Texas Education Agency.

“Teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses are all paid on the same salary schedule. So you’re leaving two very important groups out,” said Waxahachie ISD Director of Communications Jenny Bridges before the recent amendments. “I don’t think it addresses a lot of our very hardworking people.”

When the Senate insisted for the $5,000 raises, it would have only impacted 658 employees in WISD. With the recent changes to the bill, the impact carries out to approximately 1,287 employees. Sixty-three administrative positions are in the district.

IMPACT ON SMALL DISTRICTS

Bridges noted some uncertainties about the bill and more specifically its impact on smaller districts that are not growing.

Milford ISD is the smallest student-populated district in Ellis County; having just one campus that serves 273 pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

The state minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and zero experience is $27,329. In Milford ISD, teachers begin at $34,709.

Milford ISD superintendent Vernon Orndorff shared the board of trustees awards a $1,000 Christmas bonus to all staff members annually and expressed concerns with the sustainability of the salary increases as the bill states the allotment would expire Sept. 1, 2020.

If the state were to mandate districts to pay the $1,850 increase after expiration, it would be an additional $62,900 for the Milford ISD budget and over $2.3 million for Waxahachie ISD.

“I’m one hundred percent for it,” Orndorff said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to seize the moment and see how we can improve teacher salaries as we increase accountability.”

With smaller districts like Milford — which has an economically disadvantaged rate of 71.8 percent and is not a growing district and, therefore, will not receive additional funds from the state per-student — additional funds to maintain salary raises after two years is a concern.

Midlothian ISD Board President Matt Sanders advocated for teachers salary increases and noted the negative impact this could have on smaller districts if it would be mandated by the state after the two-year bill expires.

MORE FLEXIBILITY

Sanders expressed the amendments to the bill better serve independent school districts.

“The way it was initially structured was they were going to dictate how the funding is spent and mainly toward the pay raises,” Sanders said.

The Texas Tribune reported the most notable amendment on Wednesday was the teacher pay raise provision filed by House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie.

His amendment advised that 25 percent of the basic allotment be authorized for staff raises and the remaining 75 percent can be allocated on the discretion of each district. The basic allocation is the amount of funds provided to independent school districts from the state based on per-student funding.

Sanders further explained this is based on the average daily student attendance, which on average is 96 percent for Midlothian ISD this year.

In HB3, the per-student funding increased by $890 totaling $6,030 per student, full-day pre-k for low-income students would be funded and additional money would be directed toward students with learning impairments and for offering dual language program.

As the bill pertains to salary increases, Sanders noted some benefits to the district. In the past six years, the Midlothian ISD Board of Trustees has approved five Christmas stipends and annual pay raise of an average of 3 percent and sometimes 5 percent annually. The district already implements a similar salary strategy that could be implemented by the state starting September.

Sanders said the additional funds could allow the district to possibly incorporate more significant raises or hire more support staff.

HB 3 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. Chairman Larry Taylor is the Senate sponsor for the bill and is working on getting the bill set for a hearing.

Once the bill is set, the house committee will hear testimony on the Senate version of HB 3. A two-thirds vote is required to transition the bill out of committee and to the Senate floor for the entirety of the Senate to vote on it. Once both houses have approved the bill or concurrent resolution in the same form, it is then printed and signed by the speaker and the lieutenant governor.

This final copy is then prepared by the chief clerk of the House, which then goes to the governor. The final day of the current session is May 27.

State Rep. John Wray expressed pride in the Texas Legislature and to have been an author of the bill.

"The Texas Plan. Its passage sends $9 billion to public education,” Wray wrote in an email. “I also cast my vote for the amendment sending 25% of that increase straight to teacher and support staff pay raises. We are talking about an average of over $1,800 pay raise to our teachers, librarians, counselors, custodians and more."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement in approval of the House passing HB 3.

“Texans are demanding meaningful reforms to our school finance system, and today’s passage of HB 3 in the House is a vital step toward that goal. By reducing recapture, investing more money in our schools and in our teachers, the Legislature is making changes that will have a lasting impact on our education system, and more importantly, our students. I applaud Chairman Huberty and Speaker Bonnen for their work to pass this bill, and I look forward to working with Senator Taylor, Lt. Governor Patrick, and the entire Legislature to ensure the final passage of school finance reform this session.”

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450