When Texas legislators adjourned in May, many of them thought that their plans to give every teacher a $3,000 pay raise had failed along with their efforts to rewrite the school finance system.
Thanks to an alert teachers’ union leader, though, about 10 percent of the state’s teachers will be getting a 2.8 percent salary increase. It seems an all-but-forgotten budget rule guarantees them one.
The rule orders the state to increase the minimum salary schedule whenever the legislature increases per-pupil spending. The two-year budget the legislature passed before adjourning last month will increase spending by $110 per pupil in the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years. The state’s total K-12 spending will be $23.2 billion over the biennium, an 8 percent increase.
“Given this session, we’re proud to have anything good for anybody,” said John Cole, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, who was unhappy that the broader attempts to revise the school finance system failed.
In a June 9 letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley, Mr. Cole pointed out that the spending increase triggers a raise in the minimum salary schedule under a 1995 rule that ensures the teacher-pay scale will rise when the state increases per-pupil spending.
The rule has been waived in the past, sometimes with the union’s consent. In 1999 and 2001, the union agreed to a waiver because the legislature was awarding across-the-board increases in salaries or benefits.
In 2003, the legislature—acting despite the union’s objection—put a clause into the spending law that waived the rule, even though it didn’t offer other increases.
“This time around, the gang that can’t shoot straight was in charge of the legislature, and they just forgot” to waive the rule, said Mr. Cole, whose 50,000-member union is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
After reviewing Mr. Cole’s letter, Ms. Neeley announced a new salary schedule on June 14. A rookie teacher will earn at least $24,910—a $670 raise—and a 20-year veteran will be paid a minimum of $41,930—a $1,130 increase.
While most districts pay above the minimum salary, Mr. Cole estimates that 10 percent of the state’s teachers are paid either the state minimum or under a local plan that guarantees them a specific amount above the minimum.