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Lt. Gov. Patrick offers to boost teacher pay; teacher groups dubious


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to reprioritize state and district spending for certain educational issues.

Patrick wants voters to approve reshuffling of lottery revenue.

School districts and their advocates see Patrick’s plan as unfunded mandates.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick unveiled a plan Thursday to boost teacher pay beyond the $1,000 raise called for by Gov. Greg Abbott, and to ultimately pay for it by requiring school districts to reallocate existing funds and, if voters agree, earmarking the first $700 million in lottery money, which already goes to education, for teacher salaries.

Patrick compared his plan — which he hopes to adopt during the legislative special session that gets underway Tuesday — with what he called House Speaker Joe Straus’ “Ponzi scheme” of appropriating $1.5 billion for public schools in part by deferring a payment to schools to 2019, which was approved by the House but not the Senate during the regular session.

“I spent the last six weeks really drilling down on these numbers, and as I looked at it I said, `You know what, we don’t need to splash just more money on these school districts,’” Patrick said. “We need to direct that money.”

RELATED: Lawmakers propose reining in health costs for Texas retired teachers

In the short term, Patrick said bonuses for both experienced and retired teachers, lowering health care costs for retirees, and funding some other education costs could be paid for over the next two years by deferring $700 million in payments to Medicaid managed care organizations.

Patrick said the average teacher pay in Texas is $51,182.

“I want the goal to be for every district to reallocate an additional 5 percent of revenues to increase average teacher pay from $51,000 to $60,000” over four years, Patrick said.

READ: Gov. Abbott will announce bid for a second term Friday in San Antonio

In addition to a pay boost of $1,000 per teacher, Patrick said he also wants longevity bonuses of $600 to be paid each year to teachers with six to 10 years on the job, and $1,000 a year for teachers with 11 or more years of experience. His plan also would provide retired teachers who spent 20 or more years on the job with a bonus each March, beginning at $600 and increasing each year, reaching $1,000 in the fourth year.

The plan to direct lottery money to teachers would require a constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by Texas voters.

“I know what the school districts are going to say,” Patrick said. “‘You’re taking $700 million away from us.’ No, we’re not. We’re just directing it to teachers, because you haven’t been. We’re going to help them make a little bit wiser decision.”

School officials dubious

Many public schools and their advocates said that Patrick’s education plan would force school districts to dig deep for funds to raise salaries for teachers.

“It’s just another unfunded mandate that once again shifts more of the burden of educating our students from the state to local taxpayers,” said Scott Thomas, spokesman for the Manor school district.

Several teacher groups, including the Texas State Teachers Association, Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Association of School Administrators, told the American-Statesman that they weren’t contacted by Patrick’s office to talk about teacher pay. They questioned Patrick’s motives.

“I think some of it sounds promising, but until we are brought in to be able to really take a look at how things are going to work, it’s hard to buy into it when it’s coming from the same source that wants to privatize the education system, that wants to take away or minimize teacher union representation,” said Monty Exter, lobbyist for the professional educators association, referring to proposals to create a system that would direct public money to private school tuition and restrict automatic deductions of teacher association dues from paychecks.

READ: Out from Capitol shadows, Gov. Abbott looms large with special session

Teacher groups also questioned Patrick’s assertions about school district spending on teachers. He said Thursday that education spending makes up 52 percent of the state’s budget but didn’t say that the state’s share of education spending will decline to 38 percent by 2019.

“Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s sudden, newfound interest in teachers and retired teachers is as hollow as the governor’s $1,000 teacher pay raise because neither is willing to make a genuine commitment to investing state funds in public education,” Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria said in a statement.

Finance fix?

Included in the $700 million that Patrick proposed spending on education:

• $60 million for school districts experiencing rapid student enrollment growth and charter schools, which are privately run public schools, and to provide funding for construction and facilities.

• $150 million for almost 200 school districts, including Lake Travis and Lago Vista, that will lose hundreds of millions in Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction in September. That pot of money was established in 2005 to keep school districts from losing money after the state reduced property taxes, the main source of public school funding, by a third.

Patrick also said the state should foot the bill on soaring recapture payments, which property-wealthy school districts must pay to the state to help property-poor school districts. Because of the perfect storm of rising property values and declining student enrollment, the Austin school district pays more in recapture money than any other district in the state – an estimated $534 million next school year.

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But Patrick didn’t explain how the state would find the money to pay districts’ recapture payments.

Chandra Villanueva, policy analyst for the left-leaning Austin think-tank Center for Public Policy Priorities said that instead of throwing money at the problem as Patrick is proposing, the Legislature needs to make changes to the state’s outdated funding formula while ensuring that all school districts are equitably funded.

“He doesn’t understand recapture. It’s not about the money,” she said.

Shot at the House

Patrick was wearing one of the “20-for-20” pins Abbott has been distributing, indicating his determination to pass all 20 items on the governor’s agenda for the special session. He said the House could also approve all agenda items, “if they ever get a chance to vote for them on the floor.”

Patrick said that in the regular session, of the 20 items on the governor’s call, “we already passed 10 out of the Senate. They were killed by the (House) speaker.”

“We plan to pass 20 out of 20 of the governor’s priorities, my priorities, the people’s priorities,” Patrick said. “The Senate will hit the ground running next week. I believe the House can pass 20 for 20 if they ever get a chance to vote for them on the floor.”

Patrick complained that Straus had avoided meeting with him one-on-one during the regular session or since, but that he is ever ready to get together.

Straus said, in a statement: “It’s encouraging to see the lieutenant governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform. Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session.”

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