AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Teachers, parents and students from across the state wanted their voices heard and they had the ears of lawmakers on Monday.
The Texas Parent Teacher Association hosted a day of rallies, legislative sessions, and lawmaker meetings. Members urged the state to act on school safety, public education funding, mental health concerns and raises for teachers.
“The funding for our schools needs to be fixed,” said Round Rock ISD parent and PTA treasurer at Callison Elementary Jessica Arceneaux. “We are paying a lot of tax money and (state leaders) are not meeting us in the middle with the government funding.”
“They’ve been slapping on Band-Aids since 2006,” she said.
Arcenaux brought her family to the Capitol on Monday to call on lawmakers to change the way the state pays for public education in Texas.
“I do believe very strongly that education is the great equalizer,” said State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D- El Paso.
“We have the money and the budget and we are ready to spend that money, quite frankly,” House Appropriations chair John Zerwas, a Richardson republican, told a crowd of teachers and parents Monday morning.
“We can make systematic and historic change in the state of Texas if we work together,” State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said. Huberty has led the House effort to reform school finance funding.
Meanwhile, inside, the state’s senate finance committee unanimously pushed to the floor a bill that would give Texas teachers across-the-board pay raises next year.
Senate Bill 3, by State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would use state funding to provide $5,000 raises to each classroom teacher. Nelson laid out the bill in committee on Monday, and with a 15-0 vote, the bill heads to the full senate.
“The most important investment we can make in education is in our teachers. They are the key factor in preparing our students for success,” Nelson — a former teacher — said in a statement after the committee’s approval. “It has been 10 years since our teachers have received a pay raise from the state. Meanwhile their health care costs are going up. They are dipping into personal funds to pay for classroom items. And their overall cost of living is more expensive. We need to provide this salary increase in order to both attract and retain the very best educators for our Texas students.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also released a statement after the committee vote, congratulating Nelson.
“Teachers currently receive only a third of the funding we send to our schools,” he stated. “That’s why I first proposed an across-the-board pay raise for teachers in 2017 and why the $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers in Senate Bill 3 is my number one education priority this session.”
“It will provide an immediate financial boost for teachers, assist in retaining good teachers, and recruit the best and the brightest to this critical profession,” Patrick’s statement continued. “I will be moving this bill to the floor and out of the Senate at the earliest possible date.”
Lawmakers also told parents and teachers they are committed to finding a balance between school funding and property taxes, the top two priorities state leaders have outlined this session.
“We’re gonna take care of schools, we’re going to take care of our counties, our cities, and we’re going to take care of the property owners. You and I and everybody else that pays this wants to see relief in that area,” Zerwas said. “But it can’t be at the expense of our children.”
Education advocates said it was important for lawmakers to see their faces and “see the people that this is actually impacting directly.”
“We’re not optimistic at all, that’s why we’re here,” said Rockport-Fulton ISD parent Karey Swartwout.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they are listening.
“I think they (teachers and Texas PTA) may have been the most influential group in the state, determining not just electoral outcomes with the direction that we take but we’re here,” said State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas.
“I’m delighted they’re here and I think we are listening and I think they are having a very positive effect on the future of our state and our politics,” he continued.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, told Texas PTA members he planned to focus on school safety, calling a “monumental issue” this session. Bonnen also said he wanted local school districts to be allowed to make decisions regarding district finances and campus safety.