Texas Dems Pitch Their Own Plan for Giving Teacher Raises and Lowering Property Taxes

AUSTIN -- Democrats in the Texas House unveiled their own plan on Thursday to give teachers pay raises, increase public school funding and lower property taxes -- but their plan looks nothing like the one being put forth by Republican leadership.The Democrats' plan has a $16.2 billion price tag -- $1.6 billion of which would be to fund full day pre-K for all, a top priority. Rather than a single omnibus bill, Democrats say their platform is encapsulated across dozens of bills that they're backing -- some of which have yet to be filed. The announcement by Democrats comes as House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, continues work on his own version of a GOP-backed school finance bill. Huberty's bill is expected to be filed in the coming weeks and will be a vehicle for the top legislative priority of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Teacher payDemocrats are proposing a $3.78 billion compensation increase -- a nod to the $3.7 billion the Senate budget set aside for an across-the-board teacher pay raise of $5,000. Under the Democrats' salary plan, $2.56 billion would be used to give pay raises for all teachers and support staff, but how that money is awarded is left open. The addition of support staff to the mix means there's less money for more people, so teachers would likely get less under this plan than what the Senate is proposing. But the Democrats are also proposing to pay $100 a month toward teachers' increasing health care premiums - which would cost the state $1.05 billion. And they would pay another $174 million to districts for increasing health care costs related to the pay raises. The plan also calls for one-time money from the state’s “Rainy Day” savings fund to stabilize the Teacher Retirement System and give teachers $500 checks for classroom supplies. Republican leaders are currently split between a Senate plan to give every teacher a $5,000 across-the-board raise, which is backed by Patrick, and giving teachers raises through a merit-based model, which is backed by both Abbott and Patrick and was recommended in the report issued by the year-long Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Property taxesDemocrats also are proposing to address burdensome property tax increases for homeowners by doubling the school district homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000. That would cost the state $1.7 billion and reduce property tax bills by an average of $325 across the state.Increasing the homestead exemption, which would shield $50,000 of the value of a home from property taxes, would give all homeowners in a district the same savings. For example, homeowners in Dallas ISD would pay $320.52 less in property taxes. In Fort Worth ISD, they'd pay $338 less. Grand Prairie ISD homeowners would get a break of $398. Plano ISD homeowners would pay $360 less and homeowners in McKinney ISD would pay $405 less in property taxes, according to data provided by the House Democratic Caucus.Republicans leadership has proposed slowing property tax growth by capping how much property tax revenue local districts can increase at 2.5 percent a year. That cap would force school districts to lower their property tax rate as property values rise. GOP lawmakers say they would offset any losses of local property tax revenue by increasing state dollars for the school districts. But Democrats note the Republican plan requires using billions of dollars earmarked for schools to buy down property tax rates. They’d prefer to see that money go directly to classroom investment. Increasing the homestead exemption does not provide tax relief to renters or business owners. The Democrats are also proposing the following: $1.6 billion for full day pre-K$2.8 billion to increase the per student basic allotment to $5,400$2.2 billion to invest in economically disadvantaged students$1.8 billion to invest in special education students$200 million for English Language learners$150 million for school facilities, prioritizing pre-K facilities. $212 million to improve school safety by hiring a behavioral health professional for every school campus.   Continue reading...

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