OP-ED
From the Office of State Senator Kel Seliger, District 31

For Immediate Release
September 22, 2006

Public Education Reform

The fourth special session of the 79th Legislature was a success in many ways. After years of varying opinions on how to fix the broken school finance system, the House and Senate passed a bill that not only brought significant property tax relief to all taxpayers, but also included important education reforms. Thanks to leadership and cooperation among both chambers, House Bill 1 provides all teachers, school nurses, counselors and librarians with a much deserved $2000 across-the-board pay raise. The bill also restores the $500 health insurance stipend. Additionally, one educator compensation award program was expanded and another created in order to further supplement educator salaries.

The Awards for Student Achievement Program was created by Governor Perry and applies to schools serving the most economically disadvantaged students that are also rated exemplary, recognized, or in the top 25 percent of schools most improved in reading or math. The program's funding was expanded from the initial $10 million to $100 million beginning in the 2007-2008 school year. Seventy-five percent of the awards must go directly to teachers who are shown to have improved student achievement.

The second program, the Educator Excellence Awards Program, is available to any district and will be funded with $228 million starting in the 2008-2009 school year. A majority of teachers on each participating campus must vote to approve participation. Sixty percent of the funds must go to teachers shown to have improved student achievement, while the remainder may be used for stipends for mentoring, hard-to-staff subjects and campuses, and to reward other staff who contribute to student achievement.

I am pleased to report that Texas students will also benefit from several improvements to the education system that will be implemented in the coming years.

Beginning this school year, districts will receive $275 per student in grades nine through twelve to be spent on high school completion and success initiatives starting in sixth grade. The funds are intended to increase graduation rates and may be used to promote college readiness or to offer additional study options such as dual credit or advanced placement courses. I believe this is a huge step towards helping our college-bound students get ahead.

Additionally, the Texas Education Agency will begin to calculate annual student achievement and report to parents and teachers whether each student meets, exceeds or falls below expectations. This is imperative for keeping our students on track for graduation and post-high school success, whether each student's plan is higher education, technical school, or succeeding in the workforce.

There are a couple of worthy goals that I hope we will address in the 80th Legislature. I would like to see rapid progress in getting our teachers to the national average in pay. Despite the recent pay raise, Texas still lags in that figure. I also think we need to assess the effectiveness of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, as well as whether the test has been counterproductive to meeting its intended objective. I believe it may be time to replace the TAKS test with end-of-course exams based upon the recommended curriculum.

I recognize the importance of preparing students not only for college, but for any path they choose in life. I am interested in expanding technical and workforce training programs in our high schools because not every student chooses to pursue higher education. While it should always be our goal to encourage further study, we should also utilize the time we have today to help students succeed tomorrow. I look forward to working with educators in this district to accomplish more for our schools.

We must never stop supporting our schools or stop trying to improve them. Today's students are tomorrow's leaders, workers, and, yes, teachers.

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