Saturday, August 06, 2005

Texas should put its money on teachers and textbooks

This is a more modest proposal that will help legislators save face in light of the current impasse across the two chambers on school finance. -Angela

Rodney Ellis and Kevin Eltife, TEXAS SENATE
Saturday, August 06, 2005 / Austin Am-Statesman

As the Texas Legislature moves through its third special session on school finance reform, we are working on a bipartisan effort to put more money where it counts the most for public education — directly into the classroom.

Education reform and lower property taxes are important goals that deserve continued work toward a consensus. They should not be abandoned simply because they pose a challenge. However, these challenges should not stand in the way of meaningful action that will help our children learn and make ours schools more successful.

That is why we are working with members of both political parties to build a consensus on an agenda that will yield real results. We have spoken with numerous constituents and education experts who agree that our teachers are underpaid, that our textbooks are out of date and that we must get more of our education money into the classroom.

We can talk all day about computers in classrooms or school start dates or school construction. But we all should agree that the most important thing we can do for our children's education is to recruit and retain great teachers. Education begins not with four walls, but with a teacher who cares, inspires and guides. We can all look back to a teacher who made a difference to us. Our children deserve no less.

So we want to pay our teachers more money and help them buy health insurance. We are proposing a $2,000 pay raise to increase teacher salaries and a $1,000 stipend to help purchase health insurance. We wish we could do more, because we believe our teachers deserve more, but we hope this will be a meaningful demonstration of our appreciation and commitment to them.

Every great teacher can only do so much with a ruler and a pencil. So we also are proposing $295 million for new textbooks. When students are forced to share a limited number of books, or must ignore out-of-date or obsolete information in those books, we only add to their burden. To help our students excel, they need the proper tools.

The people of our districts, and this state, want to see more money in the classroom, and our proposal does just that. No one can argue that spending money on teachers and textbooks does not put money in the classroom. And by focusing our limited resources this way, we can move toward increasing the overall percentage of education spending being directed toward classroom instruction.

We can do better for our teachers, parents, schools and, most importantly, for our students.

Ellis, a Democrat, represents District 13 in Houston. Eltife, a Republican, represents District 1 in Tyler.

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