House OKs $4.5 billion for teacher raises
The Texas House last Thursday passed two education-related bills, one that allocates $4.5 billion for teacher pay raises and another to increase the annual per-student base funding from $6,160 to $6,300 – a 2.3% increase.
The Austin American-Statesman reported the bill would create minimum salaries for teachers ranging from $35,000 to $63,000 depending on experience and level of education. It would also increase funding for special education and fine arts.
Some education advocates worry the per-student funding is insufficient to keep up with inflation, which has grown by 17% in the last four years, the Statesman reported.
The bill also creates a method to adjust the per-student funding for inflation every other year, starting in 2025.
Voters may decide fate of broadband expansion
Voters could decide whether the state should invest $5 billion to expand internet availability if a bill passed last week by the Texas House makes it through the Senate. House Bill 9, sponsored by state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, would create the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund, the Texas Tribune reported.
“This bill will have a measurable impact on each one of your districts,” Ashby said last week on the House floor. “No matter whether they be urban, suburban or rural.”
Nearly 7 million Texans do not have reliable broadband service, a fact hammered home during the pandemic, when connectivity often was crucial for schools and people trying to work from home. However, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in March that it would take closer to $10 billion to get all Texans connected.
The state is also expected to receive federal dollars for broadband expansion out of the infrastructure package passed by Congress in 2021, though it is unknown how much Texas will receive out of the $42.45 billion allocated for broadband expansion. The state will need to match one-fourth of whatever it receives from the federal government.
$200 annual fee for EV owners goes to Abbott
A bill requiring electrical vehicle owners to pay a $200 annual fee to the state has passed both chambers and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, The Dallas Morning News reported. Backers of the bill say the higher vehicle registration fees are needed because EV owners don’t pay fuel taxes built into the price of fuel and used to fund the state’s highway system. The state fuel tax on both gasoline and diesel is 20 cents per gallon.
Opponents of the bill say it would slow the expansion of EVs in the state, which pollute less than vehicles using carbon-based fuels. They also note the fuel tax funds just 29% of what is spent on Texas highways.
“The primary cause of the road funding shortfall in Texas has nothing to do with EVs, but rather with the fact that Texas has not increased their gas tax since 1991,” Dylan Jaff, sustainability policy analyst with Consumer Reports, said in a memo.
Fentanyl test strip bill stalls in Senate
A bipartisan effort to decriminalize the use of fentanyl test strips has stalled in a Texas Senate committee after passing the Texas House with near unanimous report, The Morning News reported. The bill also has the backing of Abbott.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairs the criminal justice committee. He said some members fear making the test strips legal would lead to more people feeling confident about using dangerous drugs.
Fentanyl is often mixed with more expensive drugs such as heroin, leading to thousands of fatal overdoses, including more than 5,000 in Texas from July 2021 to July 2022.
“It’s just illogical, but there’s a belief by some members that it might safeguard the use,” Whitmire said.
The testing strips are currently treated as drug paraphernalia. The strips are used to test for the presence of fentanyl in other drugs.
Bill calls for armed officers at all schools
A bill that would require school districts to place at least one armed officer on each campus has passed the Texas House, the Statesman reported. The measure comes almost a year after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in a mass shooting in Uvalde last May.
Any officer or school employee would have to complete handgun safety training. The measure also requires at least one audit for intruder detection each year in all districts. The state would provide at least $100 per student and $15,000 per campus to maintain and improve school safety.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, has filed several gun control measures in that chamber that have yet to receive a hearing. Gutierrez represents Uvalde and says more needs to be done besides the House measure.
“Let me be very clear: I’m for anything that’s going to make our schools safer,” Gutierrez said in the Statesman story. “But the three things that is going to really make our schools safer is extreme risk protective orders, you take guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, Florida did it, it worked; raising the age limit, take guns, AR-15’s out of (the hands of) 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, Florida did it, it worked; closing the gun show loophole and universal background checks.”
Disaster declaration partially approved
President Joe Biden has partially approved the state’s request for a major disaster declaration for counties affected by an ice storm in late January.
The original request included 23 counties, but 13 were given access to funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — Bastrop, Blanco, Burleson, Burnet, Hays, Henderson, Kendall, Lee, Leon, Milam, Robertson, Travis and Williamson.
The ice storm damaged millions of trees, particularly in the Austin area, and caused widespread power outages throughout Central Texas. A total of 350,000 people in Texas were without power at some point, according to Spectrum News 1.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.