AUSTIN, Texas — With many students across the state on spring break this week, 500 teachers came to Austin to lobby lawmakers on their legislative priorities. They also held a rally near the Texas Capitol.
The teachers want them to invest part of the state’s nearly $33 billion budget surplus into public schools. Rosie Curts came to Austin from Dallas, where she’s a high school math teacher at W.H. Adamson High School.
What You Need To Know
- The educators have several requests for lawmakers, like increasing teacher salaries by $10,000, instituting class-size limits so there aren’t too many students per teacher, giving every school a mental health care professional and nurse and lowering health care costs
- If Senate Bill 8 passes, the Comptroller of Public Accounts would administer educational savings accounts and disperse up to $8,000 per student
- Senate Bill 9, also called the “Teacher Bill of Rights,” would increase teacher pay
- The so-called “school choice program” is a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
“We don’t have the money for new supplies, for field trips, for speakers, guests, anything that might make the learning experience more creative,” Curts said.
The educators have several requests for lawmakers, such as increasing teacher salaries by $10,000, instituting class-size limits so there aren’t too many students per teacher, giving every school a mental health care professional and nurse and lowering health care costs.
Curts said Dallas ISD teachers are compensated based on their standardized test scores.
“That’s a real tragedy in itself that I could go on about for a long time,” Curts said. “But generally, yes, we need a raise; and yes, the teacher shortage is very real. Every day we get an email about all the teachers that aren’t there. Last semester, we finally filled several vacancies that were vacant all semester. And that’s not from lack of trying on behalf of my administration; that’s from lack of teachers wanting to get into this profession with the amount of disrespect that’s shown to it.”
The teachers who rallied near the Capitol on Monday also said they don’t want money to be taken out of the public education system to be used for school vouchers. A so-called “school choice program” is a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, is carrying the school choice bill in the Senate. He filed Senate Bill 8, also called the “Parental Bill of Rights,” last week. If the bill passes, the Comptroller of Public Accounts would administer educational savings accounts and disperse up to $8,000 per student. Parents could use that money to send their child to a private or charter school.
“We have the opportunity to create some educational opportunities for students that need it the most, and I think those things can always reconcile where we can support our public schools and allow educational opportunities for students at the same time,” he said. “Anything else is just a destructive narrative.”
School districts with enrollment under 20,000 would not be affected.
“It’s just, again, an effort to do the best we can as we lift up our public schools with state funding like never before,” Sen. Creighton said. “We support our teachers. We work on school safety. We work on health insurance costs. All these things we’re doing that are unprecedented for public schools, we also decided that at some point, for phasing in of education freedom and school choice-related initiatives, that districts of a certain size have a little bit more difficulty scaling the cost of that. And so we just decided, for a couple of years, to help with that for the districts that are the largest in the state.”
But Curts, who met with Democratic Reps. Alma Allen and James Talarico on Monday, doesn’t think vouchers will be good for Texas public schools. She calls them “dangerous.”
“The more we take to put toward vouchers, the less there is to go to our public schools,” she said.
Sen. Creighton said the state has so much money in this legislative session that it doesn’t have to be an “either or.” He said Texas can fund public schools while also supporting a school voucher program.
“We shouldn’t have anything to worry about or fear,” Sen. Creighton said.
The senator has also filed Senate Bill 9, also called the “Teacher Bill of Rights,” to increase teacher pay. He said he’s working with appropriators through the budgeting process to determine how much salaries should go up. If passed, the bill would also give free pre-K instruction to kids of classroom teachers.
“It just makes sense that if a teacher has young children, and pre-K is already offered in the school, that it’d be a part of their benefit package,” he said.
The work has just begun. The filing deadline for bills was last Friday. Now, lawmakers will move through the process of hearing public testimony in committee hearings and voting on bills. A lot can change before legislation reaches the governor’s desk.
Curts said she’ll keep coming back to Austin to advocate for better pay and resources for as long as it takes for lawmakers to do something about it.
“We’re not going to quit,” Curts said.