Senate Approves New Education Bill
AUSTIN - Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that seeks to increase accountability standards in public schools, give teachers a pay raise, and fund new textbooks for Texas students. Senate Bill 8, by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, represents the latest effort from the Senate to find a way to improve the quality of schools in the state. According to the author, this bill consists of the same reforms the Senate has been working on since the process started in January. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst says this bill consists of the Senate's best work product to date. "This bill contains virtually the same reforms that we've been talking about since day one, but many of those reforms have been improved as we've gone through the process and worked with the Senators and the education community," he said.
The bill would put 2.8 billion new dollars into Texas schools, and would fund a $2,500 annual teacher pay increase over the next two years. It includes more than $300 million for new textbooks. Schools that consistently fall below performance standards could be turned over to a private organization or company to turn those schools around.
Like other education reform bills during the process, this bill is contingent on the passage of a tax reform bill that lowers property taxes. The Constitution mandates that bills relating to taxes must originate in the House, but there has been nearly no movement on a tax bill since HB 3, the House's original tax bill, died early in this special session. Dewhurst wants SB 8 to spur the House into action regarding school finance and taxes. "We hope that the House will take a good hard look at Senate Bill 8," he said. "We hope that this work by the Senate will act as a catalyst for renewed interest on the House's part to come together and solve school finance."
The Senate also passed several other bills included in the Governor's original call for the session. The Chamber approved SB 5, which would deregulate the telecommunications industry in Texas over the next few years. The Senate also passed SB 7, which restricts the ability of local governments to seize private property for public works projects. These bills must still be passed by the House before they can be signed by the governor. Another bill, HB 11, was passed earlier by the House and Tuesday by the Senate, and will go to the governor's desk. This bill would provide a pay increase for appellate, district, and Supreme Court judges in the state.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, August 11, at 11 a.m.