This article appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of The Classroom Teacher.

By Jeri Stone | TCTA Executive Director

Every session has an overused phrase. There was the “at the end of the day” session, the “unintended consequences” session, etc. This was the “transformational” session, but the main thing that transformed (in the sense of those toys that turn into robots or tanks depending on how you twist them) was who we could rely on to help us move good legislation and fix or stop bad legislation.

This was the session of odd alliances, and issue by issue, people you could rely on to support teachers and classrooms shifted. As an example, we had Republican support (largely, though this was a close one) in our efforts to increase teacher authority to remove dangerous, threatening or extremely disruptive students from their classrooms, but encountered opposition from many disability rights organizations and even the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing group that for some reason decided to be worried about diminishing the authority of principals.

Speaking of principals, the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association was a key player in 1984 when class-size caps were developed for grades K-4, but this session supported a bill that would have allowed districts to go to class size averages instead. Normally the Democrats are very supportive of salary increases for teachers and paraprofessionals. But this session, there was not an agreement in the Democratic caucus meeting to support an across-the-board pay raise, and their operative rule was that unanimous consent determined what they would and would not pledge to support.

Part of that may have resulted from the decades-long schism that always erupts between superintendents and us regarding “local control,” for want of better phrasing. The whole education community is always in agreement that public schools need to be better funded, but the alliance inevitably breaks down when we ask for assurances that teachers and other instructional personnel will receive their fair share. Superintendents (and often school boards) argue that things like an across-the-board pay raise usurp local control. Multiple superintendents came to testify against across-the-board pay raises, asserting that they would take care of teachers locally and teachers would receive their fair share of new funding based on locally determined budgets. 

Alas, and we have a great chart to prove it, teacher compensation has never kept pace with increased funding for public schools. Though we regularly hear that districts spend half of their money on teachers, the school finance bill that finally passed requires that only 30% of the new money districts will receive goes to enhance teacher, librarian, counselor and school nurse pay, and that local districts develop their own approaches to distributing those funds. We fear that the incentive pay component of the bill is likely to be fairly prescriptive (so much for local control), and it remains to be seen whether the new system will be any more effective than its predecessors, the career ladder and DATE. 

So do be aware, when your school districts are discussing compensation, which they are likely doing right about now, that you may need to advocate for an appropriate amount of funding to go to the right personnel. Texas teacher salaries are approximately $7,000 below the national average. The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker, when they held their post-agreement press conference regarding the transformational education bill, indicated that the average increase to teacher compensation packages (which apparently includes additional TRS funding) should be around $4,000. We encourage you to make the leadership in your district, elected and management, aware of the need for significant increases in your paychecks, since this decision has been shifted to the local district level.

You should also be aware that alarm bells are already being sounded by some about the lack of an identified and significant ongoing revenue stream to fund the infusion of money into public schools. This may cause some districts to be stingier than they should be with pay raises, under the argument that they’re not sure they’ll be able to afford the raises going forward. 

Cooler heads should prevail here, and the significant increase in funding that most districts will experience should be used to enhance the compensation of those dealing directly with students, as intended. If that’s not what happens in your school district, be sure your legislators know it. And if you’re wondering if your legislator voted for the school finance bill, the answer is YES, unless he or she was absent. The vote was unanimous in both chambers.

Speaking of the legislature, we are only a short time away from a major election cycle, with the primaries scheduled for March preceding the November election in what is also a presidential election year. 

There is speculation that, depending in large part on the mood of voters regarding their presidential preferences, the Democrats could conceivably regain a majority in the Texas House for the first time in decades. There will undoubtedly be many hard-fought races, and educator involvement will be crucial. 

More than one observer has indicated that the whole discussion about teacher pay raises was in response to the last election cycle, in which educators were much more of a factor than they have been for a while. Keep it up, and we’ll provide you with as much information as we can as the 2020 candidates emerge.