School Funding Bill With $5,000 Teacher Pay Raise Clears Texas Senate, Inches Toward Governor's Desk

AUSTIN -- The Texas Senate on Monday voted out sweeping school funding legislation that would give every teacher in Texas a $5,000 raise while giving property tax cuts to homeowners and business owners.The Senate action means both chambers of the Legislature have passed their own versions of a bill to dedicate at least $9 billion of new money toward improving schools and delivering tax relief over the next two years. Significantly, it also means the Legislature and top elected leaders are on the cusp of fulfilling a key promise made to taxpayers during election season to overhaul the way Texas public education is funded.“I really think this is going to transform our education system,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who authored the Senate school bill. “And we’re going to lead the country and not be in the bottom quartile as we are today.”But some major differences remain between the Senate plan and House plan, which was passed last month. That means details -- like the size of the teacher pay raise or the tax cut -- won’t be known until after the two chambers negotiate in a conference committee.The Senate bill passed 26 to 2, with three members who abstained from voting. Several lawmakers said they were supporting the bill in spite of serious concerns they had about the bill. "Nothing is perfect, this document falls short in a few ways, but it's one of the best efforts I've seen," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. Republicans expressed concern they were passing a bill without knowing the exact cost to taxpayers. Democrats expressed concern about many of the policies that tied funding for schools and teachers to standardized testing.Taylor’s bill originally had an eye-popping price tag of $15.5 billion for the state’s two-year budget period, a significant increase from the House’s version which was about $9 billion.Taylor’s bill is more expensive than the House version because it includes more expensive teacher pay raises -- a demand of Lt. Gov Dan Patrick -- and much deeper property tax cuts.The initial version of his bill was tied to the passage of a 1 cent sales tax increase that has yet to pass either chamber that could generate new revenue to lower property taxes. The sales tax increase is a priority of Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, but faces stiff opposition among many rank and file members. It’s scheduled for a vote in the House on Tuesday.  Continue reading...

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