AUSTIN, Texas - The issue is an issue that just won't go away: school choice.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this past Tuesday, a few minutes after special session three came to an end without the passage of his big school choice campaign pledge, called lawmakers back to Austin for a record fourth special session.
Now, Democrats who remain a firm no vote argue that the first issue lawmakers should address is how the state funds public schools.
FOX 7 Austin's Rudy Koski spoke to a leading member of the House Democratic Caucus, Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), who in Special Session Three and at the start of Special Session Four filed her own school option bill.
GINA HINOJOSA: Our schools are ranked at the very bottom in per student funding in this country. I filed a bill in this current session, I will refile it, that would increase per student funding by $4,000 per student, which is what we need just to get to the national average in this country. It is what is average. It is what is the norm in this country. We need to deal with the basics before we start having talks and debate on gimmicks.
RUDY KOSKI: The state certainly has a lot of money in the bank, but is it feasible to say that teacher pay should start at somewhere around $75,000 a year?
GINA HINOJOSA: We know that there's nothing more important we can do in the state of Texas for our public school students than to put the best teacher before them in every classroom. And that should be exactly what our goal is. We have the money in the state of Texas to make those investments into our public schools that are the only schools that take all our kids. It is the schools that...they are the schools that 5.4 million school kids are relying on to get an education. And we owe them the very best.
RUDY KOSKI: When you say we can spend this money, we can raise the bar, what do you say to people who say you can't solve this problem by throwing money at it?
GINA HINOJOSA: I'll say, look, we're at the bottom of the barrel in per student funding. Just like anything, you get what you pay for. Education is no different. We see in the state of Texas, we have a shortage of teachers, that teachers exist, but they are refusing to work under the pay and conditions that currently exist in the state of Texas. My own fifth grader did not get a teacher last school year here in Austin, one of the richest cities in the state. And that experience is the experience that is multiplied thousands and thousands of times across the state because we are lacking the teachers, because we don't have the resources to make the right investment to attract the best who will stay to teach our kids.
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RUDY KOSKI: If the state does put money, more money into education, could the Democrats, could this Caucus say we can have that discussion about vouchers?
GINA HINOJOSA: I'll say this: we have wasted the better part of a year talking about vouchers, and I'm done. We need to start talking about what we do for 5.4 million school kids currently in our public schools who are in desperate need of investment in their education.
RUDY KOSKI: Are you worried that rural Republicans will finally cave?
GINA HINOJOSA: All year long, now four sessions in a row, we have said no to the governor's voucher scam, not even a skinny little voucher like a special education voucher that they tried to get passed in the first session. And so today, our bipartisan coalition stands strong. I have every confidence that we will continue to hold.