Bills to Roll Back Contract, Salary, Class-Size Standards Face Stout Opposition

Texas AFT’s legislative team and Texas AFT teachers from Austin and San Antonio spoke out today in a Senate Education Committee hearing against bills to roll back contract, salary, and class-size standards. A bevy of superintendents testified for these backsliding proposals, claiming that school districts must have “relief” from state requirements in the face of sharply reduced state funding. But the administrators were more than matched by Texas AFT and allied witnesses in opposition to SB 443 by Sen. Dan Patrick, Republican of Houston, and SB 3 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, Republican of Plano.

Teacher Ed Ramos of San Antonio ISD, a veteran elementary-school teacher from our San Antonio Alliance affiliate, spoke forcefully against SB 443, the bill that focuses mainly on increasing class sizes in grades K-4 above the current 22-to-1 limit. Also testifying against SB 443 was Meredith Reid, a bilingual preK teacher from our Education Austin affiliate in Austin ISD. “My experience as a classroom teacher confirms the importance of a low class-size ratio and the impact it has on student achievement,” said Reid. “Discussion should not be around an increase in a classroom ratio but rather about decreasing the ratio and taking steps to ensure a high-quality education for all children in Texas.”

Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi rounded out our case against SB 443 by noting that districts have all the flexibility they need under current law to seek temporary waivers of class-size caps in case of financial hardship—so long as they give notice to parents of the children affected. That parental-notification requirement, establishing a modicum of accountability for breaching the class-size limit, seems to be what some superintendents are eager to avoid.

Texas AFT’s testimony against the erosion of contract, salary, and educational quality standards under SB 3 argued against using a temporary fiscal crisis as the excuse for making permanent, damaging changes in state policy. This bill would permanently repeal a law that prevents districts from cutting teacher pay, and it would leave teachers waiting until the end of the school year to be notified that their contract will not be renewed—eliminating the current deadline of 45 days before the end of the school year for this notice of proposed non-renewal. SB 3 bill also would let districts rehire retired teachers but would deny those teachers any salary or contract rights, undermining standards for all educators. This far-ranging bill in addition would get rid of a 10-to-1 class-size cap for accelerated instruction of students at risk of retention for failing state achievement tests. It would even repeal a health-and-safety law that requires use of the least toxic techniques for pesticide applications on school campuses.

A temporary provision of SB 3 would authorize furloughs of up to seven unpaid days off in each of the next two school years. Texas AFT testified today that any such option (price tag: a salary cut of up to $1,832 for the average teacher) should be a true last resort, after the exhaustion of every alternative short of layoffs. We also outlined a series of safeguards that ought to be in place before any furlough option could be justified.

The two bills were left pending in committee; Democratic Sens. Royce West of Dallas, Leticia Van De Putte of San Antonio, Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, and Mario Gallegos of Houston all raised serious questions about various provisions of SB 443 and SB 3. Texas AFT will remain vigilant, and we also will be proactive, working with senators to address the current fiscal crisis without rolling back essential state standards.  We will keep you informed, and we thank you for making your voice heard on these critical issues via Texas AFT’s “click to call” technology and other Texas AFT media.

A final footnote:  Texas AFT also raised questions in today’s hearing about a plan (SB 872 by Shapiro) to create a new state agency to promote financial efficiency and productivity in public education. We warned senators to beware of simplistic quantitative measures of effectiveness like standardized test scores that fail to reflect the complexity of the educational enterprise. We pointed out that many businesses have moved away from management by numbers and numerical goals because these encourage employees to focus on short-term goals, not long-term quality and performance. And we warned against preconceived agendas. “We do not need a publicly funded research center that is set up to support predetermined policy conclusions,” we said. A final important question for legislators is this: What would this new policy-research agency add to the analyses that already can be done by the Legislative Budget Board, the state comptroller, and the Texas Education Agency?