Education

How much are your teachers worth? State’s proposed $1,000 bonus is about $2 a day

Texas lawmakers are exploring ways to give classroom teachers a $1,000 bonus.
Texas lawmakers are exploring ways to give classroom teachers a $1,000 bonus. Special to the Star-Telegram

Even if Texas leaders fund a $1,000 annual teacher bonus proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott, some schools districts estimate educators would be taking home closer to $750, or about $2 a day, after taxes and other deductions, according to some preliminary estimates.

Educators are skeptical about the proposal, which under consideration in the Legislature’s special session that began Tuesday.

“My first thought was, ‘Yeah, right,’” said Karen Gonzalez, an English and social studies teacher in Fort Worth with 25 years of experience.

Teachers say the bonuses seem like a token gesture that doesn’t tackle the bigger question of how much Texans want to invest in their schools to help students succeed.

“This $1,000 thing ... yeah, if you want to hand me $1,000 that’s nice, but that’s not going to do much,” Gonzalez said. “We have to change our ideas about how valuable education is.”

Abbott included teacher pay increases of $1,000 in his call to lawmakers for the session. The idea for boosting teacher pay was garnering support among several Texas groups and associations Friday.

“Dedicated and effective teachers deserve the opportunity to earn salaries that reflect their hard work, and Governor Abbott’s teacher pay plan gives them that opportunity,” said Courtney Boswell, executive director of the education advocacy group Texas Aspires, in a press release.

Under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s plan, school districts would find money to give a first-time bonus for the 2018 school year — $600 for those with six to 10 years of experience and $1,000 for those with ll years or more. Moving forward, the state would dedicate Texas Lottery money for continued annual bonuses.

“It’s really good that the Legislature recognizes that teachers need more pay, but we are concerned that the funding for this will be on the backs of local school districts,” said Steven Poole, executive director of the Tarrant County-based United Educators Association.

We don’t have the ability to spend billions of dollars more on education unless those who want to do that have their way and get a state income tax, and that’s not going to happen. We have plenty of money in the system to take care of our kids, to take care of our teachers and our retired teachers.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Thursday, Texas state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Senate Bill 19, which mirrors Patrick’s plan. Texas voters could have a say in the proposed teacher bonus through a constitutional amendment that would dedicate money from the state lottery to education through another bill filed by Texas state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

Under Nelson’s plan, the first round of bonuses would be in September 2018, with a $193 million biennial package to pay for state career bonuses of $600 or $1,000 for classroom teachers based on years of experience.

Nelson’s plan also calls for a $750 million biennial package to pay for permanent raises for classroom teachers, which would begin in the 2019-20 school year. An additional $212 million would be allocated to the Teacher Retirement System to help retired teachers pay for increasing healthcare costs, including premiums, deductibles and prescription costs.

The bill calls for transferring money from the Health and Human Services Commission to the Texas Education Agency and the Teacher Retirement System. That move covers the cost of the transfer by deferring Medicaid payment to managed care organizations. A more permanent funding source would be identified in the next legislative session.

The Texas Senate Finance committee plans a hearing on the issue at 1 p.m. Saturday in Austin.

Burton’s plan would dedicate money from the state lottery to education and require that 50 percent of the money be used for salary increases and bonuses for experienced classroom teachers beginning with the 2020 fiscal year.

“Currently, money from the Texas lottery is only statutorily dedicated to public education,” Burton said in a press release. “SJR 1 would strengthen this commitment by enshrining it in our state constitution, which cannot be undone without another vote of the people.”

The Texas Senate Education committee plans a hearing on Burton’s plan Sunday at 4 p.m. in Austin.

Local response

School district officials in Arlington, Fort Worth, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Keller schools said it’s too soon to know how a bonus would be implemented.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s sudden, newfound interest in teachers and retired teachers is as hollow as the governor’s $1,000 pay raise, because neither is willing to make a genuine commitment to investing state funds in public education.

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Experts and area school districts say it is difficult to be specific about how much teachers would take home with such a bonus because employee tax brackets, health benefits and withholding vary.

Hypothetical pay scenarios by Fort Worth, H-E-B and the Texas Association of School Boards estimated that teachers who get a $1,000 bonus would take home about $750.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the $1,000 increase. Many districts that end their fiscal year on June 30 have already adopted budgets, and the remaining districts who end their fiscal year on Aug. 31 are essentially ready to adopt their budgets,” said Deanne Hullender, spokeswoman for H-E-B schools.

Grapevine-Colleyville, Northwest and Fort Worth school districts recently approved 2 percent employee raises. Arlington approved a 2.5 salary increase.

Poole said on average North Texas districts approved raises of about 2.5 percent, with Crowley schools approving one of the highest at 3 percent.

Gonzalez wondered whether local school district raises will be factored in or if districts that pay higher than the state’s minimum salary won’t get a bonus. For example, the state’s minimum salary for a classroom teacher with no experience is $28,080, while in Fort Worth that salary was recently bumped to $52,000.

Staff writer Sandra Engelland contributed to this report, which contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

Education-related issues on the special session agenda

▪ Teacher pay raise or bonus of $1,000.

▪ Legislation that allows more flexibility in benefits for teachers

▪ School finance

▪ School choice for children with special needs

▪ Regulation of bathroom use by transgender Texans

Source: Texas Governor’s Office

Proposed $1,000 Texas teacher bonuses

Here is what some educator groups and school districts described as possible take-home pay scenarios:

Texas Association of School Boards

Teacher takes home about $776.47.

This scenario assumes a 15 percent withholding for federal income tax, 1.45 percent Medicare (pretax) and a 7.2 percent Teacher Retirement System required contribution effective Sept. 1, 2017 (pretax).

Fort Worth

Teacher takes home a net increase in pay of about $768

Under this scenario, the employee is married with two deductions:

$52,315 per year: Net monthly take-home pay is $3,556

$53,315 per year: Net monthly take-home pay is $3,620

Note: The taxes that go up with a $1,000-per-year raise:

  • Medicare tax
  • Withholding to the IRS (amount varies based on the amount of income and claimed deductions)
  • Employee-paid Teacher Retirement System contributions

Hurst-Euless-Bedford

Teacher takes home a net increase of $758.50 annually or $63.21 monthly

This scenario assumes an average teacher pay of $61,000 and a withholding of 15 percent, TRS deduction of 7.7 percent, Medicare of 1.45 percent and no other pretax deductions.

Public hearings

Public hearing on Senate Bill 19

The Texas Senate Committee on Finance plans a hearing on the proposed Senate Bill 19, which outlines teacher bonuses. The hearing will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the Capitol Extension, Room E1.036. Look for the live broadcast at www.senate.texas.gov/av-live.php

Public hearing on SJR 1, constitutional amendment proposal

The Texas Senate Committee on Education plans a hearing on the proposed SJR 1, constitutional amendment to dedicate Texas lottery money to education, including a portion for teacher bonuses. The hearing will be at 4 p.m. Sunday in Room E1.028. Look for the live broadcast at www.senate.texas.gov/av-live.php

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