As the Texas Legislative session begins, it is obvious that lawmakers on both sides of aisle are thinking big when it comes to appropriating more state funding for public education, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The House is proposing adding $7 billion to education.
"It is a large expenditure, but it is changing the system," said State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who was chair of the House Education Committee in the 2017 session. The new committees have not been assigned yet.
"That is the thing that we haven't done in over thirty years."
Even the more conservative State Senate is ready to up state aid to education by $4.3 billion, and has included in its budget a $5,000 across the board pay raise for all Texas teachers.
State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) says now is the time to make improvements to schools which have been long overdue.
"We are blessed with a good economy right now," he said. "We have some opportunities for additional revenue sources."
From new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen to Gov. Abbott in Tuesday's inaugural address, state leaders have stressed that improvements for education is a top priority. Conservatives say new education funding is needed to lower local property taxes, while Democrats say the quality of schools must be improved and teacher salaries must remain competitive.
Rob D'Amico of the Texas Federation of Teachers, praised what he called 'a confluence of newfound political will' for the big money proposals.
"While the House budget document is far from perfect, it does signal that the state is emerging from a decade of neglect of public schools, educators and employees," he said. "The Senate pay-raise proposal for full-time teachers is a positive first step, but we haven’t heard more on supporting the rest of the public education team or addressing the significant needs for public education funding overall."
Still to be determined is where the money will come from. Each chamber has different ideas on how to raise the needed funds.
There is also significant will in the Legislature to abolish the so called 'Robin Hood' plan, adopted in the early 1990s as local property taxes began becoming a more important factor in funding local schools. Representatives of property poor schools said that left them at a disadvantage, and, following several court battles, 'Robin Hood' was approved to require property wealthy districts to share some of their property tax revenue with their poorer neighbors.
"This is a starting point," Huberty said. "We will have meaningful discussions about it, and when the committees are appointed, they will get to work."Taylor said both parties are committed to 'improving educational outcomes for all of out students.'