House BIll 3 signing

Gov. Greg Abbott (center) signed House Bill 3 during a ceremony June 11 at Parmer Lane Elementary School in Austin.

An additional $3 million to Palestine Independent School District, including raises of roughly $5,000 for 300 teachers, is just one of the benefits schools districts statewide will get from a $11.6-billion finance law.

Called one of the legislature's biggest school finance reforms, House Bill 3 will funnel most of its benefits to local school districts to pay for school staff pay raises, said Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jason Marshall.  

“The message Austin is sending is that teachers are valuable,” Palestine ISD spokesperson Larissa Loveless said. “State legislators are giving teachers money they've deserved for a long time.”

Westwood Independent School District will get roughly $1 million from House Bill 3, Superintendent Wade Stanford said.

Some of the money will support school programs, including supplies and equipment that impact student achievement, but the major chunk—about 70 percent of the funds—will apply to pay increases for teachers and hourly staff.

Stanford declined to estimate the average size of the Westwood raises, but teaching raises statewide will average about $5,000. Every employee in the district will get “an impactful raise,” Stanford said, adding the district would know more next month.

Increasing educators’ pay is critical to student success, Stanford said. “It takes everyone we have to make sure our kids succeed,” he said.

The law, known as House Bill 3, mandates $6.5 billion for spending on public education, including raises of about $5,000 per teacher and funding full-day pre-K programs; $5.1 billion will offset Texans' property taxes.

Gov. Greg Abbott hailed the passage of the finance law as a “monumental moment” in the state’s history of public education at the signing ceremony in Austin June 11.

The bill’s long journey began in rural areas like Anderson County.

Meeting with legislators in Palestine last November, seven Anderson County superintendents told Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) their rural districts were underfunded and had difficulty attracting qualified teachers.

Several months later, the efforts of legislators statewide paid off.

The law will also provide funds to shift some of the burden for school funding away from property owners. The amount of relief, however, is not yet clear, as some districts are still scrambling to sort out details and numbers in the 300-page bill, before school resumes in August.

Earlier this year, Westwood and Palestine ISD announced they would offer full-day pre-K to all families, regardless of income — and regardless of whether they received more funding.

The new funds, however, will help. Before HB 3, full-day pre-K programs received about half of what they needed to operate to provide pre-K to qualifying families. New funding will allow local schools to channel more money into pre-K programs for children of all households, regardless of income, Marshall said.

Both districts are hiring new pre-K teachers, although they have not determined how many children will be enrolled. Stanford said Westwood will do another pre-K round-up before school begins in August, but parents can also visit the administration office at 4524 W. Oak St., or call 903-729-1776.

For enrollment in pre-K at Washington Early Childhood Center, families should call 903-731-8000. Enrollment packets for the pre-K program are available at PISD's administration offices, 1007 E. Park St. in Palestine.