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Lawmakers agree on teacher pay raise

Lawmakers agree on teacher pay raise

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AUSTIN - State lawmakers inched closer Saturday to reaching a deal on two parts of a school funding package that brought them back to the Capitol for a 30-day special legislative session.

Though no definite agreements were reached Saturday, leaders said they had agreed on a teacher pay raise and were discussing raising the homestead exemption by $7,500 for Texas homeowners.

Negotiators were stumped, however, on the issue of recapture, which is the term for money that property wealthy districts give back to the state to redistribute to poorer districts. The recapture element gave the system its nickname, Robin Hood.

That panel, charged with finding a compromise on a bill that proposes new education programs, met behind closed doors, but broke up for the day late Saturday afternoon.

"The truth is, we're real close," said Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate.

"I think we're down to just one or two issues, the most important one being recapture."

The special session ends Wednesday and lawmakers are under pressure to reach an agreement to meet legislative time tables this weekend. They would need to have both compromise bills available for consideration by the full chambers on Monday or Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry called the special session to restructure the way Texans are taxed to pay for public schools. Both the House and the Senate have approved their versions of the two bills and now panels of 10 lawmakers for each must work out the differences.

Both chambers also adopted other measures earlier in the session that would lower school property taxes for homeowners and replace that school money with new consumer and business taxes. Each chamber reduced property taxes to differing amounts. Money instead would be raised by increasing the sales tax, though both chambers also disagree on how much to raise that levy, and by closing loopholes in the state's business tax. While both chambers want to raise the cigarette tax by a dollar, the Senate wants to raise alcohol taxes by 20 percent. Higher alcohol taxes have been repeatedly shot down in the House.

Meanwhile, the Texas Supreme Court is considering an appeal of a previous court ruling that declared the current school financing system unconstitutional. More than 300 school districts sued the state, arguing that the school funding system is inadequate.

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