AUSTIN — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday proposed to give longevity bonuses to current and former teachers, ease the pain of recent changes to retired school employees’ health plans and begin phasing out “Robin Hood” wealth transfers between school districts.
At a Capitol news conference, Patrick rebutted claims he hasn’t made school finance a priority, lambasted House Speaker Joe Straus and laid out the Senate’s education plan for next week’s special legislative session.
Schools have enough money, they just need to use it more wisely — and spend a lot more on teacher pay, said Patrick, the Senate’s GOP presiding officer.
“There’s a lot of money in the system, $60 billion a year,” he said, citing federal, state and local revenues.
But only 32 percent of the money goes to teacher salaries, he said. The Senate plan would set a goal for districts to reallocate their spending to devote an additional 5 percent of revenue to teacher pay. They would be asked to do that for four consecutive years, he said.
“After four years, the average teacher salary will be $60,000,” he said. Currently, the average Texas teacher makes nearly $52,000, Patrick said.
He proposed that each March, districts would give $600 longevity bonuses to active teachers who have six to 10 years of experience and $1,000 for those who have taught 11 or more years. Retirees’ annual bonuses would start at $600 a year. After increasing by $100 a year, they would be capped after four years at $1,000 annually, he said.
The longevity bonuses would be on top of the average pay raises of $1,000 a year being pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick said. Abbott has not proposed additional school funding. Districts can pay for them out of existing revenues, the Republican governor has said.
“Some will say that’s an unfunded mandate,” Patrick said of his and Abbott’s pay plans. “That’s not true … we’re simply saying prioritize the money for the teachers.”
Texas must attract “the best and brightest” to the teaching ranks and to do that, schools have to pay more, he said.
“Teachers are the keys. Buildings don’t educate students,” he stressed.
Teacher groups, though, reacted warily.
Mark Wiggins of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the state’s largest teacher and educator group, said he welcomes Patrick’s interest in improved pay and retiree health care.
“Obviously there’s going to be some skepticism around any proposal that isn’t fully funded,” he said. “Let’s see real funding attached to it and let’s see what the proposal has in it.”
AFT Texas president Louis Malfaro said the numbers in Patrick’s plan don’t add up.
“School districts would be asked to stretch already thin budgets even more,” Malfaro said. “In essence, he’s saying let’s pretend we have more dollars to work with, and then we can pretend to give teachers more money.”
Patrick said he’s committed to finding state money to phase out over eight years the “recapture” payments made to poorer districts by property-wealthy districts, such as Plano.
Such transfers account for nearly $1.5 billion a year, he said. Patrick did not specify how he would pay for the state’s assuming the burden.
The Robin Hood system, begun in the early 1990s, has become increasingly unpopular and could soon require donations from the Dallas district.
In 2018-2019, Patrick said the state must put an additional $200 million into the Teacher Retirement System’s health care plan to help “some outliers,” people “getting hit a little harder than others” by a just-passed law to increase the plan’s solvency with a mix of policy-design changes, higher premiums and deductibles. They include retirees who are still caring for a disabled child and those who have a spouse on the plan, he said. Patrick said his plan also would decrease prescription drug costs.
He also proposed that lawmakers provide $150 million to cushion the looming loss of “hold harmless” money, a move important to districts such as Prosper in Collin County.
In 2006, when lawmakers cut school property taxes by one-third, they created the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction or ASATR program. In 2011, they said it would end this year.
In the school year just ended, the state distributed $251 million to 192 ASATR districts, according to the Texas Education Agency.
This fall, especially in oil-producing counties that have been hit hard by a recent drilling slump, some districts stand to lose as much as 40 percent of their maintenance and operations money, some lawmakers have warned.
Patrick’s plan also would give $60 million more in facilities money over the next two years to fast-growth districts, such as Frisco, as well as to charter schools. Facilities money for charter schools has been one of the lieutenant governor’s top priorities.
Paying the bill
For the two-year state budget cycle that begins Sept. 1, Patrick proposed that the longevity bonuses and several school-finance tweaks be financed by delaying $700 million of payments to Medicaid managed-care organizations.
He said Straus’ school finance proposal in this year’s regular session, which involved a one-month delay of $1.9 billion in basic state aid to districts, was “a Ponzi scheme.” The money would go to schools but eventually come out of schools’ pockets, making no sense, the lieutenant governor said. He also accused Straus of trying to lay the groundwork for a state income tax.
Straus ignored the gibe about income tax, as well as Patrick’s insistence he has refused one-on-one meetings all year.
“It’s encouraging to see the lieutenant governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform, Straus, a San Antonio Republican, said in a written statement. “Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session.”
Patrick proposed to pay for a great deal of his plan over the long haul by passing a constitutional amendment that would dedicate the first $700 million collected from the state lottery to the longevity bonuses for current and retired teachers.
Lottery money already is dedicated to public schools, though it accounts for only 1/20th of the state’s contribution, he said.
School officials are likely to protest, ” ‘Well, you’re taking $700 million away from us,’ ” Patrick said. “No, we’re not. We’re just directing it to teachers, because you haven’t been.”