Democrat education plan calls for full day pre-K, teacher pay raise

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus laid out their plans for an education overhaul Thursday. They hope to implement as many aspects as possible to the school finance reform expected to pass the Republican-controlled legislature. 

The “Texas Kids First Plan” would cost around $14.5 billion, more money than currently available in the state budget. Among other things, the plan calls for Texas to require full day Pre-K, increase the per-student money to school districts, more money to educate children in poverty, more money to educate students who speak english as a second language and pay raises for teachers.

Texas public schools are funded through the state and local property taxes. Over the years, more of the burden has shifted to local property tax payers through current formulas.

The plan would also ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment next election to raise the homestead exemption for property taxes from $25,000 to $50,000 — forcing the state to pick up a larger share of the cost of education. 

However, the plan would not be fully funded without new revenue. House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, D-Dallas, told the press they would look at a range of options like tapping the state’s savings account, adding the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax to items currently not taxed like gasoline and newspapers, and getting rid of tax exclusions for business and professional services considered in the school finance commission. 

The fastest-growing group of students in Texas are children in poverty and children who speak English as a second language. Working them through the school system at the same pace as other kids, takes time and resources.

“Ensuring that students get that additional support, that additional time. Whether it be after school tutoring or even in classroom support,” said Sonia Dominguez from the education non-profit E3 Alliance.

She says if they get a boost early, they can actually surpass their peers. Particularly the students who learn two languages as children.”They are learning a new language, they are maintaining their language so the supports that are needed are high quality teachers that can instruct teachers in two languages.”

Thursday, the House Democratic Caucus proposed nearly $2.5 billion in new dollars earmarked for those children by expanding the ‘weights’ the state allows per student.

“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,” said Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Chris Turner, D-Dallas. 

Many aspects of this plan could make it into the eventual plan spearheaded by state Republican leaders, including Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

“From day one, I have made it explicitly clear that ALL Members — regardless of Chamber or Party —must work together in order to successfully pass a meaningful solution to school finance. When it comes to educating our children, there is no Republican or Democrat plan. There is only a Texas plan,” said Speaker Bonnen, “Partisan division has prevented the Legislature from accomplishing school finance reform in sessions past, and I fully expect all members to stand united behind Chairman Huberty and the Public Education Committee as they introduce school finance legislation in the weeks to come.”

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