Big pay raise for Texas teachers would cut into budget surplus

Texas Democrats called for a new investment in education. 

They called for a proposed pay hike, $15,000 for teachers and a 25% increase for school support staff. The legislation to do that was filed by State Representative James Talarico.

"There are some folks who think maybe this is too big, too bold, too ambitious. The Texas I know does big things. We lead the way. We're the state that sent a man to the moon. In Texas, we go big or go home. And it's time, at this moment, to go big on teacher pay," said the Round Rock Democrat.

Rep. Talarico claims his plan would increase minimum pay to just under $50,000, and increase the average pay in Texas to almost $74,000. The bigger paycheck would send a clear message to classrooms, according to Deanna Perkins a Leander ISD fourth-grade teacher.

"It's about time that our state leaders showed just how much we are valued. Investing in educators is equivalent to investing in our children and their future," said Perkins.

Rep. Talarico said money for his plan would come from the new multi-billion dollar budget surplus.

"We have done some rough estimates and talked to some advocates about what this bill would cost. And that's why we feel comfortable saying that not only have the surplus, actually more than half the surplus would still be left over for other priorities," said Talarico.

In 2019, state lawmakers passed HB 3. It gave school districts extra money to increase salaries. It also created an incentive program making it possible for some teachers to earn a six-figure salary.

State Senate Finance Chair Senator Jane Huffman spoke about the proposal. The Houston Republican said she does expect a boost in education funding will be considered this session.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of great ideas coming forth in the legislature. The lieutenant governor has said it's a priority of his to enhance teacher pay. We'll have to figure out how to do it. Where it's long-lasting," said Huffman.

Using one-time, surplus money for a regular budget item, according to Senator Huffman, is probably not the right way to go. 

"But we can look to see if it's something that we can sustain for the future, because if not, it's more of a bonus. It's not really a tool to recruit teachers and to keep teachers," said Huffman.

The chairman for the House Democrat Caucus believes he can make the numbers work. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer pointed to the proposed budget for this Session as a way to make the pay hike stick.

"And when I went through this document last week, you can tell from Post-it notes, I see some things like special projects. I see some ideas for special interests. And when I get to the issue of education and how we're going to respect our teachers, how we're going to respect our classrooms, I see a footnote that says, we'll get back to you mañana," said the Democrat from San Antonio.

Representative Talarico said his plan can be a starting point for discussion. Democrats are willing to work out a compromise with republican leaders, according to Talarico.

He also indicated the discussion should not be derailed by an effort to use much of the surplus as a property tax rebate.