‘The Lost Decade: Texas schools are underfunded & facing devastating staffing shortages’
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 today 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.
“The pandemic didn’t cause all of the root issues for why teachers are considering leaving the profession,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “Two causes—low pay and an unmanageable workload—have been the drivers for more than 10 years. Safety concerns, chaos from staff shortages, and an increasing workload in the pandemic appear to be the final straw for many. They don’t feel respected for their dedication to their professions, and when they look at their paychecks, when they try to take care of their own families on that pittance, it’s a moment that screams, ‘What’s the point?’”
“I’m hearing from several people at my school in no uncertain terms that they are leaving,” said Coretta Mallet-Fontenot, a Houston ISD high school English teacher and a candidate for the State Board of Education. “They are not just leaving my school. They are leaving the profession. It will be a long time before they will even consider coming back to education.”
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.
Key takeaways include:
- Salaries of Texas public school teachers have fallen over the past 11 years when adjusted for inflation. Since the 2009-2010 school year, wages have declined by roughly 4% on average.
- Texas is behind nationally on teacher salaries. Public school teachers in Texas make an average of $7,449 less than the national average teacher salary. Even when teacher wages are indexed to cost of living, Texas ranks 29th nationally.
- Texas school support staff have gotten modest pay raises, but many roles remain close to poverty-level wages. Paraprofessional staff (including educational aides and interpreters) and auxiliary staff (including custodians, food service workers, bus drivers) have seen modest gains in average base pay over the past 10 years, but that average base pay is less than half that of professional staff.
- Understanding how we got here — and how we can resolve the situation — requires looking at how our schools are funded. The Texas Legislature’s last major school finance bill was 2019’s House Bill 3. While that bill was touted as a win for schools and teachers, upon reflection, it has done more to cut taxes for corporations than to fund schools and raise school employee pay.
- Low pay is a leading reason teachers and staff are considering leaving their jobs in education. Thirty-four percent of Texas AFT members surveyed in November 2021 named salaries as their top workplace concern. In that same survey, 66% of school employees said they had considered leaving their jobs in the past year.
- Pay stagnation and high turnover are not just pandemic problems. Teacher turnover has increased over the past 11 years; the additional stress of the pandemic and a highly politicized environment have exacerbated an existing problem.
- Ultimately, these issues affect Texas students. Not only have teacher wages stagnated in the wake of HB 3’s passage, so too has base funding for public schools. Texas ranks 45th in the nation in terms of per-pupil funding. That means fewer resources for students’ classrooms and academic or extracurricular programs, on top of higher turnover among their teachers and support staff.
“We have to think about who will suffer from declining educator pay and underfunding our schools—our students,” Capo said. “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.”
“We’re professionals,” Mallet-Fontenot said. “I’m also counseling students. I’m also making sure that they are fed, that they are clothed, that we’re connecting with outside services should they need them. So we go beyond the call of duty. We aren’t just standing at the blackboard like in the old days delivering instruction. We are doing it all. And we deserve to be compensated as such. We deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We should not have to go and work extra jobs or have a side hustle.”
When asked by a Univision reporter in February 2022 whether he would commit to raising salaries for teachers, Gov. Greg Abbott responded that he and the Legislature had already provided “one of the largest” pay raises for teachers in history with HB 3 in 2019. “Abbott directed the creation of a teacher retention task force, but he’s shirking his responsibility for pursuing what’s obvious,” Capo said. “He’s not being truthful about the 2019 pay raise that came nowhere near getting to the wages we need to retain teachers.”
“I started making $11 an hour, and in 15 years, I’m just getting to $15 an hour,” said Melissa Baines, a school secretary in Aldine ISD. “I am unable to fully take care of myself and my responsibilities on my own.” Baines noted that she brings home $700 a paycheck, and the insurance premiums, which she has to decline because of the cost, would be $350. “I really enjoy what I do. But I put a lot of time into my school. I give them my all. And I expect after working 40 hours on a full-time job to have a decent wage. We are vital employees and need to be paid as such.”
“My checks, I don’t see them, because they don’t even cover half our expenses,” said Tasha Wilson, an Individualized Education Plan clerk for special education students in Spring ISD. Wilson, who has the crucial role of coordinating and tracking meetings with parents for special education services—something that has become extremely difficult with staffing shortages—makes $20,000 a year. “We’re the heart of keeping special education together. My only joy and saving grace at my job is knowing that I’ve done something to help and make a difference in these special education students’ lives. If I would be paid more, I would have more of an incentive to want to stay.”
Of the many solutions outlined in the report, the most crucial, Capo said, is for the Legislature to step up and take responsibility for increasing per-student funding through the basic allotment on a regular basis. To match inflation, legislators should increase the allotment to $6,713, roughly an extra $700 per student. “Smaller class sizes, academic help, wrap-around services for struggling students, and dedicated school employees—all those things start with funding that responds to inflation.”
Texas American Federation of Teachers represents some 65,000 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 AFL-CIO.
Since its founding in 1985, Every Texan (formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities) has leveraged public policy to expand opportunity and equity for Texans of all backgrounds. Based in Austin, Texas, Every Texan is a nonprofit organization that researches, analyzes, and advocates for public policies to achieve equitable access to quality health care, food security, education, and good jobs.