April 15, 2008

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

As a parent, I share in the desire for a Texas with top-notch school systems that produce world class thinkers. When talking with our area teachers I hear a description of the many challenges they face in educating our students. Last session, the legislature took steps to address some of the concerns of Texas teachers, parents, and students.
The end of TAKS
A priority of our education system is preparing young Texans for college. The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test is the current measurement tool used to assess how well the public education meets that goal.
While TAKS provides accountability for our students, a better measurement may be garnered through the use of end of course exams. End of course exams quantify what students are learning and emphasize critical thinking skills. By using these exams, Schools will continue to be held accountable for instruction and more classroom time will be devoted to course content.
TAKS will be replaced in high school math, science, social studies and language arts classes beginning with the freshman class of the 2011-2012 school year. This change will better prepare our students for college and entry into the workforce.
Texas Tomorrow Fund II
To further encourage college attendance, the legislature created the Texas Tomorrow Fund II. Based upon the original tuition savings program, the Tomorrow Fund II allows families to pay for future college needs by locking in today’s costs for tomorrow’s scholars. The savings program will be available starting in September 2008. More information on the program can be obtained at www.texastomorrowfunds.org.
Educator Benefits
Education is vital to a productive society and economy. Having well qualified teachers is an essential component in educating our children. Texas currently ranks 32nd in the nation for educator salaries. This year the state budget allocates $280 million in discretionary funding to school districts and charter schools to increase teacher salaries.
Cumulatively, this sounds like a hefty sum. However, the raise averages out to only about $35 per month. Although this is a step in the right direction, Texas needs to do more to ensure we can attract the brightest minds to influence our state’s future.
Our retired teachers last saw a benefits increase in 2001. With the cost of living increasing, many retired educators are struggling to meet their financial responsibilities on their fixed incomes. The legislature authorized a “13th check” providing retired teachers with an overdue benefits increase. Additionally, the state contribution to the Teacher Retirement System was increased from 6% to 6.85%. This contribution provides an actuarial soundness to the fund - and a secure future to those who served our students.
The offer of a quality education is essential for Texas to continue to thrive. The last legislative session brought about many positive changes, but we still have work to do. To continue the dialogue on improvements to education or other state government matters, I welcome contact with my office at 214-370-8305.