Texas AFT president fights for raises for all school employees in House hearing

VIDEO: Louis Malfaro testifying at House Public Education Committee hearing.

The House Public Education Committee met yesterday to hear testimony on recommendations from the Texas Commission on School Finance. In his testimony, Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro urged committee members to include a much needed, broad-based pay raise in a school finance bill. The School Finance Commission had recommended putting significant resources into a merit pay plan that likely would attempt to determine teacher effectiveness based in large part on student standardized test scores.

Malfaro said Texas AFT can support differentiated pay—for example, to place and retain teachers in struggling and hard-to-staff campuses—but only if pay for all school employees is raised first. “If you’ve studied differentiated pay you know that it has to come on a base pay that’s adequate, that’s going to attract people into the profession and keep them there,” he said.

Malfaro stressed that merit pay proposals relying on STAAR are innately flawed because standardized tests are not meant to measure teacher performance. Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Kingswood), speaking to the low percentage of third-grade students reading at grade level, asked what other measures could be used to identify the most effective educators for these students.

Malfaro described a program he helped develop in Austin ISD when he was president of the local union there, Education Austin, that used state grants to compensate teachers more for teaching at hard-to-staff campuses. “The one caveat that we laid on the table in order to do that collaboratively with our superintendent and our school board, was that we were not going to agree to have our salaries tied to the state standardized test,” he said.

Regardless, Malfaro said the Legislature must concentrate on raising woefully inadequate pay in our schools, referencing comments from Buffalo ISD Superintendent Lacy Freeman, who reminded legislators that dedicated support staff like bus drivers and cafeteria workers needed to be included in pay discussions. “Having people who have to put their kids on Medicaid and go in for food stamps, who are full-time public employees in our public schools, means that we’ve let down, not only our kids, but we’ve let down the people who show up every day, drive those buses at 4:30 and 5 a.m….We can do better,” he said.