FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 22, 2023
The Texas Senate cannot have its tax-funded cake and eat it too — not at the expense of 5.5 million Texas public school students.
AUSTIN, Texas — One day after a smaller-than-advertised crowd “rallied” support for school privatization legislation at the Capitol, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony for the first time on several school voucher bills Wednesday.
Among those testifiers was Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, a statewide union that represents 66,000 current and retired school employees.
“Let me be clear: We can either have fully funded public schools or vouchers, but not both,” Capo told the committee Wednesday.
Capo’s comments reference research released last week by Texas AFT and Every Texan, a nonpartisan think tank, that details not only the cost of vouchers — at least $5.4 billion per biennium — but also, the investments needed to build a thriving Texas public education system.
In the report, titled Fully Funded & Fully Respected: The Path to Thriving Texas Public Schools, the organizations present an answer to the question, “What do fully funded public schools look like?”
For a biennium price tag of $33.4 billion, the Texas Legislature can ensure that Texas public schools — which 89% of Texas parents are happy with — have the resources they need to help students thrive:
- A minimum $10,000 raise for Texas teachers and certified staff
- A minimum 15% raise for public school support staff
- Hiring enough teachers to meet class-size ratio requirements
- Fully staffing nurses, counselors, psychologists, and social workers to recommended ratios
- Hiring a nurse at every public school campus currently without one
- Increasing state contributions to educators’ health care to keep premiums stable
- Providing retired educators with a 10% cost-of-living adjustment to their pensions — a first in nearly 20 years
- Restored funding to certification programs that help support staff gain their teaching credentials
While $33.4 billion may seem like a steep price tag, it is almost the same amount as the current state budget surplus. Additionally, the report notes that $21 billion in new funding for public schools to cover these investments would be generated by increasing the basic allotment for education.
Over $10 billion in additional funding could be found properly appraising and levying commercial property taxes and removing current charter school funding advantages.
In his comments to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, Capo cited the innovative work happening in his own local schools, highlighting career and technical education programs in rural Central Texas districts.
These programs — programs that excite students and give them hands-on skills — should be invested in, not defunded, as they likely would be if voucher legislation were to pass.
“I am worried not only about staff layoffs, but about program cuts because I know what districts will cut first: extracurriculars, fine arts, and CTE and vocational training,” wrote Capo, in a letter accompanying his testimony. “The latter is vital to student engagement and is highly unlikely to be offered by many private schools.”
In effect, Capo wrote, passing voucher legislation — and the immense expense associated with it — would deny the vast majority of Texas’ 5.5 million public school students something precious: “the opportunity to thrive.”
The Texas American Federation of Teachers represents 66,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.