Teachers deserve moral and financial support

 Senator Wentworth column                                         Contact: Margaret Patterson

For immediate release/February 2, 2007                                     (210) 826-7800
Three darn good bills to help Texas schools
by Jeff Wentworth
    State Senator, District 25
            Education is to Texas state government what national defense is to the United States federal government; it is the largest expense and often the most challenging issue.
            Although the 79th Legislature, in 2005, allocated 39.3 percent or $54.8 billion to public and higher education, it took us two regular and three special sessions to approve a school property tax reduction bill and an education reform bill.  The bill we passed during last year’s third special session increased equity among independent school districts; however, there are still some areas of inequity that are being addressed this session.
            I recently signed onto a bill by Senator Kel Seliger that would improve the funding formulas for mid-sized, property-rich schools districts, such as Alamo Heights Independent School District, Dripping Springs ISD, Fredericksburg ISD and Wimberley ISD, all of which lie completely or partially within Senate District 25.  These and 25 other Texas independent school districts are subject to both recapture of funds and exclusion from mid-sized district funding adjustments.
            To someone who is not associated with education funding, the language may sound like legislative legalese.  The bottom line, however, is clear.  If the adjustment were to be made, Alamo Heights would stand to gain approximately $600,000, while Dripping Springs, Fredericksburg and Wimberley would benefit by $1 million or more.
            I also signed a bill by Senator Tommy Williams to help 48 independent school districts that pay Social Security for some or all of these districts’ employees.  Some of these school districts opted to pay Social Security more than 50 years ago and would like to discontinue the practice.
             Unfortunately, the Social Security Amendments Act of 1983 prohibits school districts from leaving the system, so these districts are trapped in continuing to fund Social Security costs.  As a result, fewer enrichment dollars are available for educational purposes for schools that pay Social Security.
            Like the inequity in mid-sized district funding, Social Security payments are impacting the wages of teachers and other staff members.  To put the school districts that must pay into Social Security on a more equal footing with non-Social Security districts, Senator Williams’ bill would require that the state reimburse the districts by replacing 50 percent of the costs, or approximately $30 million. 
            Austin ISD, San Antonio ISD and Fredericksburg ISD, all in Senate District 25, would benefit by this bill’s passage.
            While these bills could benefit salaries of teachers in the affected schools, Senate Bill 135, which I filed, would enhance the ability of public school employees to communicate directly with members of a school district board of trustees on matters related to the operation of the district.
            The men and women who educate Texas’ more than four million public school students deserve our moral and financial support.  These three bills and dozens of others that will be filed could help Texas attract and retain quality educators.