You tracked your working conditions. Here’s what we learned.

This fall, over 600 K-12 and higher education employees participated in Texas AFT’s Strive to Thrive working conditions project. It was the largest statewide effort of public school employees in Texas to document the real issues in our schools.

Every week from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, participants tracked certain key aspects of their workdays (and work evenings and work weekends) and submitted the data to us. We’ve now had the opportunity to digest all that you reported during that month. 

Working Hours

On average, the public school employees participating in our project reported that they worked 50 hours at their primary school job per week. Though, that is an average. The highest weekly total for hours worked was 80. 

It’s no secret that many Texas educators are forced to work second (and even third) jobs to make ends meet. In its 2022 poll of teachers, the Charles Butt Foundation found that 52% of Texas teachers work a second job; of them, 89% work that second job during the school year. 

Those poll findings, of course, are just for classroom teachers. When you factor in criminally underpaid paraprofessionals and support staff, those percentages skyrocket. 

In our working conditions project, roughly 1 in 5 participants reported working a second job during the weeks they tracked. 

Work Duties

Why all these extra hours? Because no one in our public schools seems to be doing just one job, let alone just their own job. 

Among participants, 51% were asked to perform duties outside of their designated roles in a given week. Among those additional duties were: 

  • Bus duty/supervision 31%
  • Lunch duty/supervision 30%
  • Substitute teaching 26%
  • Cleaning/maintenance 13%

Those were the common tasks, but the “other” category was filled with a wide variety of additional duties, from test proctoring to delivering packages to performing bag searches. 

Everyone wants to be a team player, and educators want to do everything possible to support students. But when you’re spending more time on extra paperwork (average: 9 hours per week) than on planning lessons for your students (average: 4 hours per week), something’s wrong. 

Work Expenses

It’s also no secret that teachers and school staff regularly spend their own money on classroom supplies or resources for their students. Just Texas teachers alone spend more of their own money on their students each year than teachers in any other state — almost $300 million annually.

We asked participants in our working conditions project to track the amounts they were spending each week. 

On average, 73% of those participants said they spent personal money on students, classroom supplies, or other work expenses in a given, tracked week. The average weekly amount was $68, but we saw individual reports as high as $1,000. 

Reports like these underscore the failure of the Legislature to raise the basic allotment for public schools this year in which the state had a $32 billion budget surplus, leaving the amount of state funding per student stagnant at the same amount since 2019. 

Worksite Safety

We have long known Texas educators have serious concerns about school safety. Just after the tragedy in Uvalde in 2022, we surveyed teachers, school staff, and parents statewide about gun violence. In that survey, 90% of Texas public school employees said they worried their campus could be the site of the next school shooting. 

But when we look at school safety, gun violence is far from the only concern. In our working conditions project, an average of 35% of participants reported that they had to respond to a physical fight between students in a given week. 

These student behavioral concerns are exacerbated by two issues left entirely unaddressed by the 88th Legislature: overcrowded classrooms and lack of mental healthcare. 

In our working conditions project, participants also reported staffing levels of important student-support and student-safety positions. On average, each week:  

  • 45% of campuses did not have a psychologist or social worker on site. 
  • 21% of campuses did not have a librarian on site. 
  • 8% of campuses did not have a nurse on site. 
  • 6% of campuses did not have a counselor on site. 

One unexpected trend we noticed in the data? Forty-six percent of project participants said, for at least one week of tracking, that their school experienced an air-conditioning or total power failure. Notably, September 2023, when much of this tracking occurred, was the hottest September ever recorded in Texas. 

Here is where we’ll remind you that the 88th Legislature increased the school safety allotment by just 28 cents per student

What’s Next 

Hotline readers may recall, there were a number of bills filed in the 88th Legislature that would have addressed issues reported by project participants, as well as others we know are widespread across Texas:

  • SB 1919 (Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston) would have required nurses to be employed at every school campus and reduced the student-to-nurse ratio. 
  • HB 2172 (Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston) would have cut down on unnecessary paperwork for educators. 
  • HB 2695 (Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas) would have defined how much area a school custodian could be required to clean. 
  • HB 2939 (Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston) would have removed the ability of Districts of Innovation to exempt themselves from class-size restrictions, employment protections, and the Safe Schools Act.  
  • HB 4230 (Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin) would have expanded 22:1 student-teacher ratio requirements up to 8th grade and would have made it more difficult to subvert these requirements.  

You also may recall that none of those bills even got a hearing from Chairman Brad Buckley’s House Public Education Committee. None of these issues have been priorities for Gov. Greg Abbott, who has likewise refused to add them to an agenda for any of the four special sessions he called this year. 

Our work to address these issues in 2024 is twofold: 

  1. Hold state leaders accountable for their failures. The governor and the Legislature failed public schools this year, chasing a voucher scam instead of tackling real issues that prevent our students and staff from thriving. 2024 is an election year, and it is our opportunity to give them a performance review. 
  2. Organize locally to address these issues in districts across the state. What school employees reported in this month of tracking their work will inform our union’s plans statewide in 2024. Texas AFT will support the work of our local unions and members to bring real solutions to these rampant problems in their home districts.