Without significant statewide investment in public school funding, Texas is facing a retention crisis for certified teachers and qualified school staff. That’s not just a disaster for those employees or for the administrators who must rehire the positions — it’s a crisis for students who stand to lose crucial care and support after three school years disrupted by a pandemic.
Texas AFT and Every Texan released a report this week highlighting “The Lost Decade” in Texas, a period in which underfunding schools has led to educators making less money than ever, with students facing the consequences of a crisis in keeping our teachers in the classroom.
As Texas AFT reported in January, a survey of its members showed that 66% had considered leaving their profession in the past year, and they said the primary motivator for keeping them in public education was increasing their salaries. “The Lost Decade” report unfortunately backs up their contention of low pay when it shows, on average, teachers are making 4% less than they were in 2010 (after adjusting for inflation). While 4% is the average, statistics show many educators making upwards of 12% less. Meanwhile, many support staff employees are still teetering at the federal poverty level with embarrassingly low wages.
“We have to think about who will suffer from declining educator pay and underfunding our schools—our students,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “We need consistency in our classrooms with well-educated, well-trained, and inspired teachers and support staff giving our kids the attention they deserve. Every lawmaker will tell you that public education is the most important investment we can make in our state. Yet, when it comes time to fund that investment, it’s all crickets.”
The report explores how the latest school finance law, while initially plugging more money into public education, has mainly addressed property tax rate reduction (and mostly for corporations, for that matter) and hasn’t given public education funding the ongoing boosts it needs to combat declining school employee wages. The report also looks at other issues driving teacher turnover and proposes solutions to address the challenges.
In a letter to districts, TEA stated: “While most school systems have a local policy (see EF Local) to review instructional resources after a parent complaint is received, school libraries are offered as places for voluntary inquiry. While instructional materials and library materials are both considered instructional resources, they are not the same….TEA’s model policy provides such a distinction by solely addressing the review, selection, and approval of library materials, including procedures to ensure transparency and clear processes for parents to challenge those chosen materials in a more comprehensive manner.”
TEA’s recommendations stem from a November directive from Gov. Greg Abbott for the agency to develop statewide standards to remove “pornographic” materials from K-12 libraries. The model policy includes detailed recommendations for district-level review committees to examine book inventories and respond to parent complaints asking for book removals. Additionally, under the policy, districts would be required to maintain online lists of all materials and planned acquisition of materials for public review.
As noted by TEA, most districts already have review policies for instructional materials and have been using the same or a similar process to handle parental complaints against library books. Complaints have risen significantly in the past year after conservative officials began targeting schools with scurrilous claims against books on race, gender, and sexuality.