Texas House Democrats want full-day pre-kindergarten for every public school student in the state, raises for all school personnel and property tax cuts for Texas homeowners as part of their school finance reform package, they announced Thursday in Austin. The proposals would come at a big cost, some $16.2 billion in new funding from the state's general and emergency funds, were they all to become law.
They won't, of course, not with Republicans still holding big majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, but the plans laid out Thursday are a road map to what a blue Texas might look like and the areas in which the Texas GOP and its opposition might compromise this session.
“Our vision for public education is a vision we share with parents across the state. We want our children to have the best education possible. We want teachers and support staff to be paid a fair wage. We want a system that puts Texas kids first,” Grand Prairie Representative Chris Turner, the Texas House Democratic Chair, said at a press conference Thursday.
The best education possible, according to Turner and his fellow Democrats, means spending nearly $1.6 billion on universal pre-K — a long-stated priority of Gov. Greg Abbott — in the state's next two-year budget. It means $2.5 billion for teacher and support staff raises, $100 monthly stipends from the state to teachers to help pay for their health care and one-time $500 checks to help pay for classroom supplies. The state would also pump another $1.5 billion into the Teacher Retirement System to stabilize it and shell out $2.2 billion to help disadvantaged students.
All the improvements and extra cash, in addition to a bill that would double Texas' homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 for homeowners, would save Dallas County residents at least $320 per year in property taxes, according to numbers provided by House Democrats.
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“The cost of property taxes is too great on homeowners," Fort Worth state Rep. Ramon Romero said. "Our plan will provide relief by meaningfully increasing the state’s share of public education funding, and diminishing the need of local taxing entities to increase their taxes, and that doesn’t do enough for everyday Texans who need tax relief now. The people of Texas want real answers now. They want real solutions now."
The tab Democrats would run fixing one of Texas' biggest ongoing problems is significantly higher than the fixes proposed in the Texas House and Senate budgets by Republicans. The House budget calls for $9 billion in new school funding. The Senate budget allocates $6 billion to new school funding.
Angleton's Dennis Bonnen, the speaker of the Texas House, chastised Texas Democrats for rolling out their own plan before Texas Republicans had the chance to detail their public school fixes.
"When it comes to educating our children, there is no Republican or Democrat plan. There is only a Texas plan," Bonnen said in a statement to reporters Thursday. "Partisan division has prevented the Legislature from accomplishing school finance reform in sessions past, and I fully expect all members to stand united behind [House] Chairman [Dan] Huberty and the Public Education Committee as they introduce school finance legislation in the weeks to come."