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Lawmakers Must Figure Out How To Spend $9 Billion on Schools

The Senate favors using $4 billion to give every teacher and librarian in the state a $5,000 pay raise.
The Senate favors using $4 billion to give every teacher and librarian in the state a $5,000 pay raise.
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Lawmakers in both houses of the Texas Legislature agree that the state should invest an additional $9 billion into its public school system.

Now, they need to reach an agreement on how to spend that money.

At a meeting Wednesday morning, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved its version of the state's budget for the next two fiscal years, including $9 billion in new money for public education. The Senate's version of the budget, which is House Bill 1, is expected to go before the full Senate next week.

"Members, this is a robust, financially responsible budget that meets the needs of our growing state," Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, told the committee. "It makes smart investments in our future and it does these things within our constitutional spending limits."

The $9 billion total mirrors the figure included in the budget passed last week by the Texas House of Representatives. Although the two houses agree on the total, they differ on priorities for spending that money.

The Senate favors using $4 billion of that money to give every teacher and librarian in the state a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise. The House has preferred giving districts more discretionary money to use however school officials see fit rather than designating money for pay raises.

But on Wednesday afternoon during debate over the House's school finance bill, lawmakers adopted an amendment, introduced by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, that would earmark 25% of the additional revenue schools receive in the budget, as well as any new money districts receive in the future, for raises for teachers and school support staff. Districts would be required to spend three-quarters of that 25% on equal pay raises for full-time staff. School officials could spend the remaining quarter of that funding at their discretion, as long as the money goes toward pay raises.

Turner said districts could choose to spend more on pay raises than that 25% minimum but wouldn't be allowed to spend less. The amendment moves the two houses closer to an agreement on raises.

The House passed the school finance bill, which is House Bill 3, by a 143-1 vote Wednesday afternoon, sending the bill to the Senate.

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