Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus Calls For Increasing Funding for Public Education, Criticizes Voucher Schemes

Republicans and Democrats alike — with districts spanning from rural agricultural communities to dense urban areas — have begun speaking out in support of the priorities of our Respect Campaign, among them: safe working conditions, fair pay, reasonable workloads, and a secure retirement. Among them is former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who wrote an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News earlier this month rallying support for our public schools and educators, instead of undermining their viability by “creating a voucher program that funnels taxpayer dollars to private schools with little accountability for how those dollars are spent.”

“Some explanations for the lack of teachers can be found in a survey released earlier this year by the Charles Butt Foundation. It found that 68% of teachers seriously considered leaving public school teaching in the past year — up 10 percentage points from a year earlier. The survey found teachers were most likely to point to ‘recurrent issues with the overall work environment, such as feeling stressed, overworked, undervalued and underpaid.’

Pay raises for experienced teachers are often incremental, but, like all Texans, these professionals face rising costs for everything from food to housing to gas. School districts are facing the same inflationary pressures; since the Legislature approved significant school finance reform in 2019, inflation has driven costs 12% higher. Schools are paying more for electric bills and significantly more to fuel up their buses. The rise in these operating costs makes it more difficult for schools to invest in the classroom and in their workforces.

Fortunately, the federal government has provided Texas schools some $18 billion to mitigate the challenges that COVID-19 has put on our education system. Still, those dollars will run out and cannot replace durable state investments in students and teachers. Even after increasing education spending in 2019, Texas is still in the bottom 10 of per-student funding when adjusted for regional differences; Education Week’s Quality Counts report ranks Texas 41st in school finance.

Significant investments in public education in next year’s legislative session will help schools retain more teachers, address inflation and build upon student gains.”

While Speaker Straus does not speak for all Republicans, nor can he determine the Texas Legislature’s priorities, he is widely considered to have an influential voice on matters related to Texas politics and government. There are hopeful signs that more lawmakers are learning the importance of listening to teachers.