Sunday, June 21, 2009

What happened to the $1.9 billion in federal education money I have been hearing about that is supposed to give teachers a pay raise?

Now that the 81st legislative session is over, there is only one hurdle left to clear for bills approved by the Legislature. Gov. Rick Perry has until today to veto any bill sent to his desk. Any bill that Perry does not sign or veto by then will automatically become law. So far there has been no indication that Perry will take action on any of the major education-related bills approved this session, such as House Bill (HB) 3, the accountability system overhaul, and HB 3646, the school finance bill. However, Perry also has the authority to veto individual items in the state budget, which could effectively negate legislation by doing away with needed funding.

There also still remains the issue of whether the state is authorized to use federal stimulus money to provide school districts $1.9 billion in additional funding through HB 3646. Part of that funding will be used to provide teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors an across-the-board pay raise of at least $800. The Legislature opted not to use the state’s general revenue to fund the bill, which means the U.S. Department of Education must approve using stimulus funds for this purpose before the pay raises can be granted. There is no word at this time on when that ruling will be issued.

There is also no word yet on when Perry will bring legislators back to Austin for a special session or what exactly will be included in the call for a special session. Only items included in the call can be addressed during a special session. The main reason for the special session, and the only issue that must be dealt with, is the sunset provisions for major state agencies such as the Department of Transportation. If the sunset deadlines for these agencies are not extended, the agencies will be required by law to cease operations. However, there are several other issues that might be included in the call, such as expanding the children’s health insurance program (CHIP) and increasing unemployment aid for out-of-work Texans. Insiders are speculating that the special session will be called for the week after the July 4 holiday. This would put pressure on legislators to finish up quickly because most are planning to attend a legislative conference starting July 20 in Philadelphia.


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