Just four days before the start of the special legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has spelled out plans to give longevity bonuses to public school teachers, and boost benefits for retired teachers.
Patrick's plan offers bonuses ranging from $600 to $1,000 to long-term and retired teachers, pumps $200 million into the struggling Teacher Retirement System, gives $150 million to small, rural school districts and provides another $60 million for new schools in fast-growing areas.
Bob Garrett, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News' Austin Bureau, says Patrick relies on money from the state lottery to fund his proposal. The lottery, whose stated purpose is to fund public education, currently supplies about one-twentieth of the education costs in the state.
"A lot of educator groups are skeptical," Garrett says.
Patrick would dedicate the first $700 million in lottery revenue each year to longevity bonuses for current and retired teachers who have served for at least 20 years. To do that, he proposes an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would make the lottery allocation binding.
In the short term, before a constitutional amendment is approved by voters, Garrett says Patrick would use a bit of accounting gimmickry — the kind for which he's criticized other legislative leaders.
"Until he can get his constitutional amendment, Dan Patrick is proposing a payment delay to Medicaid managed-care organizations," Garrett says. "He was very critical of [House] Speaker Joe Straus' wanting to do a similar accounting gimmick that involved education."
Garrett says Patrick's push to provide money for teachers comes partly from a desire to soften his reputation.
"I think it has bothered Dan Patrick to be cast as the 'voucher man,' and someone who's callous to public education," Garrett says. "He often talks about how his wife was a classroom teacher. He was the Senate Education [Committee] chairman for awhile. Yesterday, he really displayed his inner education nerd at this press conference."
Teachers' organizations say Patrick's numbers don't add up given the amount of money available from the lottery, and note that he did not involve them in the development of his plan.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.