By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
When it comes to investing in a child’s education, the state of Texas is considered two steps behind many states, according to a joint report by the American Federation of Teachers and Every Texan, a nonprofit policy organization.
The state of Texas has spent $3,314 less per student than the national average each year. That number translated to about $18 billion spent less on Texas public schools compared to other states in the U.S., according to data based on The Lost Decade, a report that showed the decline in public funding for education.
The report also showed that teachers’ salaries in the state went down along with support staff, who were working below poverty wages.
AFT expressed that the options for alternative public education such as charter schools and vouchers for students wanting to go to private schools is driving the state to cut funds in public education.
In hopes of saving public education, over 500 teachers and staff members in school districts across the state joined Texas AFT at its advocacy day in Austin on March 14 in order to rally legislators to show their support for public education.
The bills that educators and staff encouraged lawmakers to support include:
- House Bill 31 and HB135 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin and Rep. Diego Bernal D-San Antonio, which would increase money for public schools by switching to enrollment-based funding.
- HB 882 by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, which would tie increases to the state basic allotment for schools to the Consumer Price Index.
- HB 1548 by Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, which would provide teachers and certified school staff with a $15,000 raise and support staff with a 25% raise.
- HB 301 by Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Graford, which would provide retired educators with a 6% cost-of-living increase to their pensions.
Zeph Capo, president of the Texas AFT and a public school science teacher, stressed the importance of supporting public education for all students.
“The state of Texas owes a debt to its public schools, to the children of the state of Texas and to the employees that work every day for them,” Capo said. “Part of what we’ve seen in our work is the fact that the state of Texas underfunds students on a per pupil basis to the tune of thousands of dollars compared to other states, other states who frankly may not actually have the same abilities we have to fund public schools.”
Capo claimed the government has not been honest or transparent about supporting public education to its fullest.
“Recently, about 500 Texas school employees came to Austin with a simple message, respect our public schools and reject voucher schemes,” he stated. “They share their personal stories and their experiences. And despite what the governor claims, that he’s fully funded public education, that he’s funded it better than anyone before, our folks still can’t make ends meet.”
In the last decade, Texas teacher salaries declined by an average of 4%, according to the research.
“At the same time, Greg Abbott claims he was funding our schools better than ever,” Capo said. “We also showed that far too many support professionals in our schools were making below poverty level wages. We show House Bill 3, the school funding bill from 2019 ended up being a lot more about tax cuts than money to our classrooms. Since we launched that agenda last year, we’ve seen some momentum in the legislature for essential pay raises and increased funding. But we’ve also seen momentum in the legislature for school vouchers and privatization.
“I want to make it clear today that we don’t believe the legislature can have it both ways. Despite claims of fully funding schools, the evidence says differently. We have nearly five decades of evidence on school funding litigation that says otherwise. But perhaps the governor doesn’t really know what a fully funded public school looks like. So we’ve prepared a lesson for him that we hope he learns from.”
Eli Melendrez, a researcher who works with AFT and helped put the report together regarding shortages in public schools, said the news does not look good for public education in the state.
“We have never fully funded our schools in the state,” Melendrez said. “We would not be 39th in the nation for per pupil funding where Texas has a $32.7 billion budget surplus. The state budget we have is a $188 billion state budget and we are not using that money to fully fund our schools. If we had taken all of that per pupil funding and pushed it up to the national average, we wouldn’t be spending $18 billion more. So if we just wanted to spend up to the national average, not above, not beyond just the average, we would be spending $18 billion more than we currently are on our students.
“Let me emphasize too, these are not a wish list. This is not a reach for the stars, any event by any means. This is a list of needs and a list of investments in our state. These investments are the future of our state, and they will pay dividends down the road. And the fact of the matter is we just don’t have enough nurses. We don’t have enough counselors. We don’t have enough social workers and we certainly don’t have enough teachers for the five and a half million students attending public schools in our state.”
The proposal AFT developed to better fund public education included spending billions more on education.
“This would give teachers and all certified staff a $10,000 raise which we know they desperately need,” Melendrez said. “We will fully staff our schools with teachers, social workers, counselors, and school psychologists and nurses as we know that they need. And we would increase our pensions for our retired teachers who have not gotten one in the past 120 years.”
Other recommendations include to give non-certified staff a 15% raise, fully staffing teachers to recommended class size ratios, shift from attendance-based to enrollment-based funding, properly appraise commercial and industrial property, and remove charter school funding advantage.
“As you can see, we cannot fully fund vouchers and fully fund public schools,” Capo said. “We don’t have to wonder about it. We don’t have to debate it. Other states have tried it. And we know what happened. Two separate reports this year actually showing a report from a nonprofit public funds public schools looked at voucher programs in seven states.”
What they found was, in all, the fund investments in public schools declined due to voucher spending groups.
A separate study from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that in three states, more than half of all voucher tax credits are going to families with an annual income of over $200,000.
“Public schools are already fending off threats posed by rapid charter schools,” Capo said. “Vouchers would further threaten those schools. All of the areas we were able to do some math about what it would cost taxpayers about $5.4 billion per biennium. That’s because bills like Senate Bill 176 would give 250,000 students already attending Texas private schools around $10,000. That’s already two and a half billion per year that’s not in our budget. Add that to the ballooning state funding for charter schools in recent years and it really starts to add up protecting taxpayers. Charter schools are entirely funded by state aid money that otherwise would have gone to traditional public schools.”