Teacher merit pay plan, overhaul of student testing also sought
Friday, February 4, 2005
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN ˆ House leaders laid out a school reform plan Thursday that would
create one of the largest teacher merit pay plans in the nation, force all
school districts to begin classes after Labor Day and overhaul student
The legislation also would increase funding for education by $1.5 billion a
year, sharply scale back "Robin Hood" sharing of local property tax revenues
and reduce the maximum property tax rate for schools by a third, from $1.50
to $1 per $100 valuation.
All districts would be guaranteed a funding increase of at least 3 percent,
but some could get substantially more under the plan.
For example, the Dallas school district would get a 3 percent boost ˆ
totaling $6,736 a year per student ˆ while the Highland Park school district
would get 55 percent more ˆ $9,128 per student.
Highland Park's windfall would come because of a proposed limit of 35
percent of property tax revenues that could be taken under share-the-wealth
requirements of the law.
House Speaker Tom Craddick and House Public Education Committee Chairman
Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, laid out their reform plan, called "Roadmap to
Results," at a Capitol news conference. Senate leaders had already outlined
a broad plan to improve education and fix the state's troubled school
"We want to get the maximum bang for every dollar we spend on education in
Texas," Mr. Grusendorf said, referring to the array of proposed reforms in
the bill. One of those would make it easier to shut down ineffective charter
schools and replace the principal and teachers at low-performing public
"We're also taking the sting out of Robin Hood's arrow," he said. The number
of districts giving up revenue would be cut from 135 to 62, and the amount
of money taken from those districts would plummet from $1.2 billion to $145
million a year.
Because of the property tax reduction, wealth disparities among districts
would diminish, the sponsors said.
The House Ways and Means Committee is reviewing various tax options to raise
the additional $1.5 billion and replace the $5.5 billion that would be lost
by lowering the maximum property tax rate for schools to $1 per $100
valuation. Districts could still collect up to 50 cents more to pay off
voter-approved construction bonds.
A provision that would greatly affect parents in many districts would
require all school districts to start classes in September—no earlier than
the day after Labor Day. Currently, most districts start the week when Aug.
21 falls, although some get state waivers to start even earlier in the
Under Mr. Grusendorf's bill, there would be no waivers and everyone would
start after Labor Day. He said the move would save $85 million a year,
including savings in utility costs.
The incentive pay plan would earmark 1 percent of state and local funds ˆ
about $270 million ˆ to reward teachers for gains in student achievement and
pay stipends to teacher mentors who work with less experienced educators.
Criteria would be developed by the Texas Education Agency, but school
districts would be allowed to design their own programs.
Student gains would be primarily measured by year-to-year scores on the
Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
"It is very critical we reward our best teachers," Mr. Grusendorf explained,
acknowledging that his bill does not call for a pay raise for all teachers.
Teacher groups blasted the incentive pay proposal.
As far as student testing, the bill would convert the TAKS to an online
program by the spring of 2006, and also scrap the TAKS exams now used in
high school and replace them with end-of-course tests in core academic