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Texas Governor Greg Abbott Announces $1.6B In Teacher Raises

AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) -  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that $1.6 billion in teacher raises are coming.

Abbott trumpeted the pay hikes near the end the Texas Legislative session.

"In the inauguration I made some pretty bold promises to the people of Texas," said Abbott, who was sworn into a second term in January. "I said we must reward teachers in school districts that achieve results, we've done that. I said we must prioritize spending in the classroom, we've done that."

A spending bill is not yet signed but is expected to reach Abbott's desk before lawmakers adjourn Monday until 2021.

It makes Texas the latest state — and now the largest — to pour significant new dollars into classrooms in wake of teacher revolts across the U.S. since 2017. Public school teachers in Texas don't collectively bargain and never went on strike, but teacher unions said they made their resentment known at the ballot box last year.

Teacher salaries in Texas are currently about $7,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association. Lawmakers who worked on the new spending plan says the raises amount to roughly $4,000 for teachers with more than five years in the classroom, and that raises will also be given to librarians and school staff.

Teacher unions met the news with caution, saying they needed to see details.

"We've been working to elect a new Legislature that would take schools seriously and not give us bathrooms and vouchers, and it appeared that was the direction we were moving in," said Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Low teacher pay has also become an issue in the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates, with some calling for a federal investment in classroom salaries.

Republicans said the changes in Texas include a merit pay program that could pay exceptional teachers even more.

"Eventually they could make a six-figure living and not have to go into being a principal or administration," said Republican state Rep. Dan Huberty, the Texas House chairman over public education.

Abbott announced the raises as part of a broader deal that includes a school finance overhaul and reforms to slow rising property taxes. The plan includes $5 billion for tax relief and $4.5 billion for classrooms.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings reacted to the news with the following statement:

"I've spent the past eight years as mayor of Dallas doing all that I could to support the innovation within Dallas ISD. It's gratifying to see many of their bold reforms incorporated into the overhaul of Texas' school finance system. As we've seen in Dallas, strategically investing more in our students pays dividends for years to come. Thanks to both the leadership in the Legislature and the year-long work that preceded this legislative session through the Commission on Public School Finance, Texas should be proud of what HB3 represents for all of our kids."

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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