Patrick Proposes Millions for Teacher Bonus Program

AUSTIN -- Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday proposed to give longevity bonuses to current and former teachers, ease the pain of recent changes to retired school employees' health plans and begin phasing out "Robin Hood" wealth transfers between school districts.At a Capitol news conference, Patrick rebutted claims he hasn't made school finance a priority, lambasted House Speaker Joe Straus and laid out the Senate's education plan for next week's special legislative session.Schools have enough money, they just need to use it more wisely - and spend a lot more on teacher pay, said Patrick, the Senate's GOP presiding officer."There's a lot of money in the system, $60 billion a year," he said, citing federal, state and local revenues.But only 32 percent of the money goes to teacher salaries, he said. The Senate plan would set a goal for districts to reallocate their spending to devote an additional 5 percent of revenue to teacher pay. They would be asked to do that for four consecutive years, he said."After four years, the average teacher salary will be $60,000," he said. Currently, the average Texas teacher makes nearly $52,000 currently, Patrick said.March checksHe proposed that each March, districts would give $600 longevity bonuses to active teachers who have six to 10 years of experience and for those who have taught 11 or more years, $1,000. Retirees' annual bonuses would start out at $600 a year. After increasing by $100 a year, they would be capped after four years at $1,000 annually, he said.The longevity bonuses would be on top of the average pay raises of $1,000 a year being pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick said. Abbott has not proposed additional school funding. Districts can pay for them out of existing revenues, the Republican governor has said.Patrick said Texas has to attract "the best and brightest" to the teaching ranks. To do that, higher salaries are needed, he said."Teachers are the keys. Buildings don't educate students," he stressed.Teacher groups, though, reacted warily.Mark Wiggins of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the state's largest teacher and educator group, said he welcomes Patrick's interest in improved pay and retiree health care."Obviously there's going to be some skepticism around any proposal that isn't fully funded," he said. "Let's see real funding attached to it and let's see what the proposal has in it."ATF Texas president Louis Malfaro said the numbers in Patrick's plan don't add up."School districts would be asked to stretch already thin budgets even more," Malfaro said. "In essence, he's saying let's pretend we have more dollars to work with, and then we can pretend to give teachers more money."Paying the billFor the two-year state budget cycle that begins Sept. 1, Patrick proposed that the longevity bonuses and several school-finance tweaks be financed by delaying $700 million of payments to Medicaid managed-care organizations.He said Straus' school-finance proposal in this year's regular session, which involved a one-month delay of $1.9 billion in basic state aid to districts, was "a Ponzi scheme." The money would go to schools but eventually, the settle up would come out of schools' pockets, making no sense, the lieutenant governor said. He also accused Straus, R-San Antonio, of trying to lay the groundwork for a state income tax.A Straus spokesman had no immediate comment.  Continue reading...

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