Senator Zaffirini passes key amendments to improve public school finance bill
Health care for support personnel, bilingual education make legislation amenable despite "poison pills"
- The public school finance bill signed by Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday (May 31) was improved significantly by amendments added by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. The changes made by Senator Zaffirini include removing onerous language regarding students with limited English proficiency and restoring the health care stipend for school support personnel, including cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and bus drivers.
HB 1 by Representative Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, will reduce property taxes by an historic $15.7 billion and the net tax burden by $6.9 billion by 2009. The new law also raises salaries by $1,500 and implements a new broad-based business tax.
"I voted for HB 1 because the bill will improve levels of equity between rich and poor schools and adds $1.4 billion to public schools," said Senator Zaffirini, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee. "Nevertheless, I still have concerns about the new law, including its providing a less than meaningful pay raise of $3,000 for teachers; failing to restore completely the teacher health care stipend; privatizing low-performing schools; and providing an ill-fated incentive program for teachers before they are paid adequately."
In total, Senator Zaffirini added eight amendments to HB 1:
Restoring the health care stipend for support personnel;
Ensuring that accountability measures for students with limited English proficiency focus on dual language proficiency instead of English only;
Providing free pre-kindergarten services to the child of an active duty member of the armed forces, a member of the National Guard or Reserves or of an armed services member who is killed or injured while serving;
Allowing children to protect themselves from severe allergy attacks by self-administering anaphylaxis medication;
Authorizing any student who lives in the same household as a student with special needs to also transfer to the same campus where the sibling will receive special education services;
Extending the national free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch program to a greater number of eligible public school students;
Improving the operation of the Texas School for the Deaf; and
Maintaining the reporting of parental involvement programs at a low-performing campus.
Senator Zaffirini chairs the newly created Subcommittee on Capital Funding for Higher Education. She also is vice chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and a member of the Senate's Education, Health and Human Services and International Relations and Trade committees, as well as the Subcommittee on Higher Education.
During the special session she passed a bill that authorizes $1.8 billion of tuition revenue bonds for 63 capital funding projects at 48 colleges and universities.