Statement from Senator Zaffirini Regarding Senate Finance Committee Vote on School Reform Bill
(AUSTIN) -- During this special session we must focus our efforts to provide an excellent education for all Texas children. That is why I voted for the committee substitute to HB 1, which lowers property taxes, raises teacher salaries and improves the levels of equity between rich and poor school districts.
I have many concerns about the bill, however, and will work to amend it in the Senate. These concerns include increasing funding for meaningful teacher pay raises of at least $3,000 a year; providing an additional $500 to restore fully the promised health-care stipend of $1,000 for teachers; removing the sunset language for the health care benefit for support personnel; and striking the language related to privatizing low performing schools.
We also must increase state funding to allow property poor school districts to build facilities for dramatic enrollment growth. Although pleased that the bill includes $50 million for the Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA) program, which helps school districts construct new educational facilities, I will continue to fight for the $150 million for IFA that was promised prior to the 2003 budget shortfall.
It is important that this debate not be exclusively about property tax reduction. While I support proposals to cuts property taxes to as low as $1 per $100 of assessed valuation, we also must provide our students, teachers and administrators with the resources necessary to meet the high standards set by our accountability system.
I opposed an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee by Senator Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, which will reduce resources for our schools. The Williams Amendment will be devastating in five years because those who pass the largest tax bill in history will be responsible for our facing chronic budget shortfalls for health and human services, public education and higher education.
I despise using the word 'adequate' when setting our goals for a public school finance system. We should strive for excellence, not adequacy. Simultaneously, we need a broad-based source of revenue that closes loopholes, is low-rate and is fair to everyone.
Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of the Legislative Budget Board. A 16-year member of the Senate Education Committee and its former vice chair, she represents some of the poorest counties in Texas.