Special to The Dallas Examiner
AUSTIN – “When I say ‘respect,’ you say ‘us,’” shouted Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, from a stage outside of the Texas AFL-CIO Monday.
The crowd of several hundred Texas school employees responded enthusiastically in unison.
“When I say ‘reject,’ you say ‘vouchers,’” they replied.
The call-and-response at the afternoon rally summed up the theme for Texas AFT’s Public Education Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol: a resounding call for increased state funding for public schools – and public school employee raises – and against several bills that would endanger that funding through private school vouchers.
In all, more than 500 Texas teachers and public school employees – including cafeteria workers, nurses and counselors – participated in a day of events in and around the Capitol. Nearly 20 independent school districts were represented by members of the group’s local affiliates.
School employees visit legislators
Teachers and school employees blanketed the Capitol, visiting the offices of their representatives and senators. Texas AFT members took the opportunity to share their personal experiences with legislators, while also asking where their elected representatives stood on several key bills, including:
- House Bills 31 and 135 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
- House Bill 882 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would tie increases to the state basic allotment for schools to the Consumer Price Index
- House Bill 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
- House Bill 301 by Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford), which would provide retired educators with a 6% cost-of-living increase to their pensions
‘People’s Hearing’ puts educators in decision-making seats
In the afternoon, Texas AFT hosted a “People’s Hearing” in the Texas Capitol’s Agricultural Museum. A small committee of current and retired teachers and school staff members shared their stories and heard invited testimony from several legislators and policy experts.
Pearl West, a child nutrition manager at Northside AFT, addressed attendees.
“I am here today to bring light to the fact that as a full-time employee, a manager for six years in the district, last year, my gross income was $20,132.17 to support my two children,” West said. “I feed several hundred hungry students a day, and I struggle to feed my own two.”
Reps. James Talarico, Alma Allen, and Venton Jones, as well as Sen. Morgan LaMantia, outlined bills they have or will file that address needs identified by Texas school employees for substantial raises, increased staffing investments, and quality-of-life improvements.
A recording of the hearing can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
Educators unite against vouchers
As the day came to an end, participants made their way down the street to the Texas AFL-CIO. They heard from public school stakeholders like teachers, parents and students, along with a variety of allies.
Speakers at the event included Lynn Davenport, a strong opponent of both privatization and data harvesting in education technology; Dr. Michael Bell, senior pastor at Fort Worth’s Greater St. Stephen First Church-Baptist; and Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education Foundation.
The resounding message: how can the state of Texas be looking at implementing school voucher programs that have cost other states billions of dollars when it sits at 39th in the nation already for public-school funding?
“If we were fully funded, we would not be losing teachers left and right,” said Capo, pushing back on Gov. Greg Abbott’s assertion that he has “fully funded” public education. “If we provided the supports necessary, we wouldn’t lose 50% of our new teachers every year.”
Research release on funding for public education
Last year, Texas AFT partnered with nonprofit policy organization Every Texan to create The Lost Decade, a report that outlined the dire funding landscape for Texas public education. Notably, that report highlighted that Texas teacher salaries had gone down, on average, over the past decade and that many support staff were working for poverty-level wages.
Building on that research base, the two groups partnered to conduct another study. On Wednesday, the groups released Fully Funded, Fully Respected: The Plan for Texas Public Schools.
The recent report presented an answer to the question, “What do fully funded public schools look like?” by presenting potential costs and budget savings for teacher and staff raises, increased staffing, investments in student services, and other components of Texas AFT’s Respect Agenda. The Dallas Examiner will publish the findings in an upcoming article.
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