In advance of the current 86th Legislative session, the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees adopted resolutions urging lawmakers to make school finance and school safety legislative priorities. Since then, district staff and trustees have been actively involved in many conversations with lawmakers to advocate on behalf of the district’s more than 76,000 students and more than 11,000 staff members, and remain hopeful that a long-term solution to the state’s broken school finance system can be achieved.
Senate Bill 3, adopted by the Senate this week, would increase teacher pay by $5,000. Prior to Senate approval, language was added to include librarians. However, FBISD Chief Financial Officer Steve Bassett is concerned about what the bill lacks: Funding to make the raises sustainable and available to other employees.
“We recognize the need to increase teacher pay statewide. However, it is unfortunate that other employees are not included, such as nurses, counselors, classroom aides, custodians, bus drivers and the others who contribute to the success of our students,” said Bassett.
Bassett, a school finance expert who has already testified before lawmakers this year, also expressed concern about the elimination of the Cost of Education Index, which is included as part of House Bill 3, the funding bill introduced in the House on Tuesday.
“HB3, as presented this week, will not provide enough funding for FBISD to increase compensation for our other employees, or to make needed investments in safety and security, early literacy, and special education without going back to our taxpayers to increase the tax rate,” said Bassett.
“On the surface, the initial estimates produced by the Legislative Budget Board, which are based on 2017-18 data, show that FBISD would gain $207 per student, but the figures do not show the full story due to the elimination of the Cost of Education Index. As presented, and with consideration of current law, FBISD appears to have a break-even scenario at best, leaving no funding left for salary increases, additional safety and mental health resources, or the expansion of programs for our special education and at-risk student populations.”
FBISD Board President Jason Burdine also expressed guarded optimism about the impending work in the legislature. Both Bassett and Burdine add that more information will be needed for the district to fully understand the potential impact to Fort Bend ISD and its students.
“We appreciate that HB3 is a good first pass at a long-term solution,” said Burdine. “Upon first review, we are concerned by the elimination of the Cost of Education Index as it looks like what we will receive is less than what we would have received under current law. In the coming days the district will be reviewing the bill in more detail so that we – and our community members – can continue to advocate for what is best for the students of FBISD.”