Jackie White Anderson, a 31-year public school teacher and Houston AFT member, spoke out in a recent Houston Chronicle op-ed article in solidarity with teachers across America who are tired of being treated like doormats at budget-writing time. Listen up, Texas legislators!
If there’s one thing that unites teachers, it’s the desire to be able to do our jobs well for our students, with up-to-date textbooks, class sizes that don’t cause chaos and electives that give students a well-rounded education. That takes adequate school funding.
Teachers also are united in believing that we shouldn’t feel guilty for demanding decent wages and benefits that reflect the professional and often challenging work we do and the value that should be placed on our profession.
But teachers and our students — and communities, by extension — have been taking it on the chin for years. I have been thrilled and so proud of my teacher colleagues and their supporters in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky, who are using their collective voices to say, “Enough is enough; we’re not going to take it anymore.”
Why is it that politicians give so much lip service to the importance of education, yet strip education funds from budgets year after year, make teachers beg for a livable wage, don’t bother to visit classrooms to see for themselves the consequences of their deep school-funding cuts and then blame teachers when student performance isn’t all it should be?
In Texas, the courts have refused to rule on whether state school funding is adequate, leaving it up to the Legislature. Using its power, the Legislature has cruelly chosen to shrink education funding and stick it to local districts and students. One unfortunate example is its 2017 vote to end the $118 million grant for pre-kindergarten programs statewide, requiring districts to fill the hole by any means, including diverting funding from other worthy sources.
In Houston and around the state, education budgets have been slashed, and the results can be seen in classrooms. We are forced to make do without enough basics; our kids are packed into overcrowded classes, and we need more tutoring and other remedial help for struggling students.
And like other states where teachers are rising up, Texas teacher pay and benefits are inadequate. The average teacher salary in Texas is $6,500 below the national average. And when you consider rising health insurance premiums and reduced retirement benefits, teachers’ overall compensation package is pretty miserable. This affects the ability of school districts to recruit and keep great teachers. True, teaching is a calling, but that doesn’t mean employers should take advantage of our passion to provide the next generation with a foundation for the rest of their lives by stiffing us on wages, health insurance and retirement benefits.
As teachers, parents, students and supportive community members converge on state capitols with anger that has been seething for years because of defunding and disinvestment, I say, you go!
We are witnessing the power of collective voice. Legislators in Austin and local lawmakers shouldn’t ignore public consensus for better teaching and learning conditions and, frankly, the very real threat of being voted out of office in November if they continue to ignore the needs of our students.
The public is saying loud and clear that it wants great public schools, teachers who are valued and an end to funding cuts that hurt students, cities, states and our nation’s future.