Texas Plan Will Change Public School Narrative for the Better

By: Kathy Rollo

Andrew Welch is a teacher with fewer than three years experience in the classroom. He writes he has good and bad days, that it’s a humbling experience, and his confidence is often tested. These are not surprising reactions considering the pressure teachers face to educate our next generation of producers and leaders. What is surprising is Andrew is in his second career. He had another high-pressure job before transferring his skills to the classroom — he was a police officer for 32 years.

How interesting that a career policeman considers teaching just as stressful as maintaining law and order. The skill sets for both professions have many similarities. Teachers and police officers must have the ability to remain calm under pressure, communicate effectively, and have the power of persuasion.

There is also a significant difference in the compensation for these professions. In Texas, the average teacher salary is $57,000 while police officers on average earn about $62,500 per year. Believe me, police officers earn every penny and then some. Teachers do, too. That’s why I’m elated that the 86th Texas Legislative Session adopted the Texas Plan for school finance reform.

So these are the headlines from this compromise plan between the Texas House and Senate. The state will infuse about $4.5 billion into the classrooms to accelerate student achievement. That’s a significant increase to the basic allotment per child. The state currently allots base funding of $5,140 per student. The Texas Plan will increase that number to $6,160, a 20 percent increase. It will cover the cost for full-day prekindergarten for economically disadvantaged students and adopts higher reading standards so students are reading at grade level by third grade.

Teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses will get a much deserved salary increase with priority given to educators with five years or more experience. The more than $2 billion increase gives the school districts flexibility on how to offer these salary increases. It also creates a merit/incentive plan for high-quality teachers to receive additional pay. It invests in professional development and mentoring programs so more educators can attain a high-quality status and school districts can retain them.

The state is increasing its share of the school finance requirements to lower your property taxes. Currently the state shoulders a 38 percent share; it’s increasing to 45 percent. That’s more than $5 billion in property tax relief. It also ensures taxpayer dollars are used wisely, requiring efficiency audits before districts can go to the voters with a tax increase.

The current school finance system is being modernized, lowering the recapture payments, improving equity, and allowing districts to keep more of the money earned from local property taxes.

I’m thankful for the hard work and sense of responsibility that went into crafting this reform. Senator Charles Perry and Representatives Dustin Burrows, John Frullo, and Ken King played significant roles in making this happen and safeguarding the interests of Lubbock ISD and all school districts in our region.

The hard work is well underway for the Lubbock ISD finance team, led by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Baum, to develop a budget for the 2019-2020 school year that conforms to the mandates of the Texas Plan. It’s an intense and time-sensitive undertaking because those numbers have to be calculated in time for the Lubbock ISD Board of Trustees to adopt an efficient and viable budget. The budget will be presented June 20.

The message has been sent that educators like Andrew Welch are appreciated and admired. They will be better compensated for their dedication and passion to teach your children. The Texas Plan is not perfect, but it is an honest and good faith effort to make significant improvements to how our children are educated and reward those who are charged with that sacred duty.

Kathy Rollo is superintendent of the Lubbock Independent School District.