Senate plan to direct lottery money to teacher pay gets cold reception

July 23, 2017
Jay Janner
State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, arrives at a Senate Eduction Committee hearing at the Capitol on Sunday. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Some public education advocates pressed lawmakers on Sunday to reconsider a plan to use existing lottery revenue earmarked for schools specifically on teacher pay raises and bonuses.

“We’re saying take those dollars and move them over to teacher salaries and so you now have that void. And so districts are being asked to make those cuts,” said Jesús Chávez, former Round Rock school district superintendent who now is with the South Texas Association of Schools.

The Senate Finance Committee on Saturday advanced a bill to the full Senate that would give $600 annual bonuses to teachers who have six to 10 years of experience and $1,000 annual bonuses to those who have at least 11 years of experience. The bill also contained a provision that would give all teachers $1,000 pay raises on top of that, starting in the 2019-2020 school year. Over the next two years, the bonuses are to be paid with existing state money, but it’s unclear how the pay raises would be funded.

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In the long-run, the Senate has a plan to pay for the teacher bonuses and raises through the use of state lottery revenue.

The Education Committee on Sunday considered Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would require voters to OK dedicating half of the more than $1 billion of state lottery revenue already earmarked for public education every year to the teacher bonuses and raises and any associated increases to retirement contributions. Currently, there is no stipulation on how public schools can use the state lottery money.

“It is important to underscore that SJR 1 does not move any money out of the public school system but instead gives teachers a larger piece of the pie,” said resolution author Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

Supporters of the plan, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said that the teacher pay increases are meant to retain high-quality teachers and that the lottery method would be a permanent way to finance it. Critics, including representatives of some teacher groups, have said that the state should pump new money into education to pay for the teacher pay plan.

According to the Texas Lottery Commission, $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2016 went to public schools, equivalent to 27 percent of lottery revenue. Sixty three percent of revenue went toward prizes paid.

Rob Kohler with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission told Senate panel members that even though revenue from Texas Lottery has been going up over the last two decades or so, it’s not making a dent in the school finance system. “We don’t think it’s wise to raise revenue through the lottery,” said Kohler, who was one of four people who testified on the bill Sunday.

The committee did not vote on the resolution on Sunday nor on Senate Bill 97 which was similar to the resolution. The author of the bill Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said his staff is rewriting the bill to require that new state money, if available, would be used for teacher raises.