Texas Teachers are talking. It’s time we listened.

October 17, 2023  

For years, Texas teachers have told us what they need: higher pay, better classroom resources, and smaller class sizes. We can’t afford to lose teachers, and it is becoming harder and harder to retain the ones we already have in the classroom. During the 88th Regular Session, teacher raises were discussed, but legislation that would have provided our teachers a much-needed raise did not cross the finish line.

Before the 88th Regular Session, Governor Abbott established the Teacher Vacancy Task Force (TTVF). Their final report included three main themes: 

  1. Increase Overall Compensation and Support Strategic Compensation Strategies
  2. Enhance Teachers’ Total Compensation
  3. Provide Incentives and Support for Hard-to-Staff Areas

The TTVF report goes on to say, “Teachers are the single most important in-school factor impacting student outcomes. Unfortunately, not all students have access to high-quality teachers.” The report also recommends updating the minimum Texas teacher salary schedule to reflect the value of Texas teachers and promote differentiated compensation. 

From the Teacher Vacancy Task Force Report, (page 14): The current minimum salary schedule (TEC §21.402) for Texas teachers starts at $33,660 and takes 20 years to reach a salary of $54,540. While many school systems pay above the minimum salary schedule, small and rural districts are frequently at or slightly above the minimum state salary. The minimum salary schedule should be raised to reflect the impact of teachers and differentiated by factors that positively impact student outcomes such as tenure and certification pathways. Additionally, the new salary schedule should encourage school systems to reward and retain effective teachers. 

The future of Texas truly relies on supporting the 370,000 teachers shaping almost 5.5 million students to be productive members of their communities. We must provide teachers what they need to stay in the classroom, and Texas legislators can do so right now during the third Special Session which kicked off on Mon, Oct 9.

On the fourth day of the Special Session, the Senate passed a $5.2 billion school funding bill – SB 2. The bill adds almost $1.2 billion to the $4 billion appropriated  to public schools during the 88th Regular Session.

SB 2 aims to create a teacher retention bonus for the 2023-24 school years. The funding will be continued as salary flowing to the districts as an annual allotment beginning in the 2024-25 school year. School districts’ enrollment sizes will determine the amount allotted per teacher:

  • $3,000 per classroom teacher for districts of more than 5,000 students
  • $10,000 per teacher for districts with fewer than 5,000 students

Another part of the bill increased the basic allotment from $6,160 to $6,235, which is another funding mechanism that would automatically provide a teacher pay increase.

Under the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), SB 2 increases salary allotment and adds a new teacher designation. The bill also creates a grant program to help districts create or expand TIA programs.

Listening to Our Texas Teachers

Like many in the profession, Clarissa Riojas planned to make a career out of teaching. She anticipated to work in McAllen ISD in the classroom for at least 15 to 20 years. After nine years, she made the hard decision to leave.

Riojas said choosing to leave the classroom was easy and hard. “Am I financially able to make it? Am I able to support myself? I’m renting an apartment where I pay $775 for a two-bedroom apartment on top of student loans and my car payment – that is still not enough for me to support myself financially. I want a house. I want a house with a yard. In that regard, it was easy for me to decide to leave the profession.”

“On a more personal level, it was really difficult. Teaching is all I’ve ever known. There’s that love I have for the classroom. There’s that love I have for my community and my kids,” Riojas said.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy life and have leisure,” Riojas said. “There are too many things standing in the way of teachers having that, and it’s not fair. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our well-being to do this.”

Clarissa Riojas attends the Measure What Matters press conference and advocacy day at the Capitol, April 2023.

Riojas now works as a campaign manager with a local organization, encouraging Texas youth to vote, a job she says is an extension of teaching. “I’m still able to use a lot of the skills and experiences I gained as a classroom teacher, but I’m also able to support myself financially and grow professionally,” Riojas said.

“It would really change the game, not just for myself, but for a lot of aspiring educators and those that are considering leaving,” Riojas said. “I do have hope that things will change for educators, for students, and for families.”

What the Data Tells Us

According to the 2023 Charles Butt Foundation Texas Teacher Poll, more than half of Texas public school teachers planned on being pre-kindergarten through grade 12 teachers for the entirety of their careers when they entered the field. However, many have changed their minds despite their initial aspirations. Seventy-five percent of teachers said they seriously considered leaving their job in the classroom in the past year.

Teachers’ working conditions also continue to raise concerns and negatively affect their mental health. Ninety-four percent of teachers cited poor pay and benefits, excessive workloads/long hours, and staff shortages as sources of personal stress, according to the poll.

Sixty-four percent of all Texas teachers, regardless of their region, say staff shortages are a major source of stress.

The poll also found teachers overwhelmingly oppose vouchers that would direct public funds into private and religious schools that lack educational oversight instead of our Texas public schools. Teachers voiced concerns about a voucher program’s “impact on funding and the risk of increased racial, economic, and disability-based divisions.”

Almost all teachers – 97% – surveyed last year said having a positive work culture and environment are important to encourage them to stay in the profession. 

Teachers are asking for:

  • autonomy as classroom leaders;
  • support in handling student discipline from administration; and,
  • their opinions to be taken into account when setting school policies.

Special Session Spending Priorities

The Special Session can allocate much-needed funding to our Texas public schools. Nearly all teachers are calling for increased salaries. Many teachers also prioritized funding for assisting students with mental health needs and improving building security. Three-quarters of the teachers surveyed also asked for funding to address pandemic-related learning gaps among students.

Listening to our Texas teachers is the first step to creating a supportive school environment where they can grow and teach our children. The next is making sure those changes make it to the classroom.

Teachers from across Texas visited the Capitol during the Regular Session to share their viewpoints with legislators. 

  • “The voice of teachers are important to shape education policy and change views,” said Vanessa Gonzalez Lopez, a pre-kindergarten bilingual teacher in Crowley ISD.
  • “People in education or those doing advocacy in Texas have to be in it for the long haul,” Riojas said. “I think we need more people like that, whether they’re in the classroom or outside.”
  • “Lawmakers must hear from the ones who are actually teaching in the classrooms,” said Tonya Mitchell, a dyslexia third-grade teacher in Richardson ISD. “Our voice and our perspectives are important and need to be shared.”

Many teachers are hopeful lawmakers will prioritize the needs of teachers and their students during Special Session, and fully fund our schools to meet the needs of every child. They want their voices heard. Right now, Texas legislators have a second chance to support our teachers. It’s time we listen to our Texas educators and make much-needed positive changes to keep them in the profession.

Tags: Advocacy school funding Teacher Workforce

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