Statement on Texas House committee hearings on teacher compensation and charter school expansion

CONTACT: Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343

Louis Malfaro, Texas AFT president, commented today on the Texas House Public Education Committee’s hearings on teacher pay and charter schools:

Teacher compensation

Priority one—raising base pay

Average teacher pay in Texas lags more than $6,000 below the national average and about 20 percent below pay in Texas for other jobs demanding comparable education and expertise. Over the past 15 years, teacher pay in Texas has stagnated, and adjusted for inflation, teachers’ average pay actually has declined 2.7 percent since 2010. Meanwhile, pensions have been eroded by inflation, and both active and retired teachers and support personnel are seeing their compensation further eroded by dramatically rising health-care costs. This situation is creating a financial disincentive for quality employees to enter or remain in education.

While it is fashionable to focus on altering the way teachers are compensated, in order to attract and retain high-quality educators what matters most is not how they are paid but how much. Differentiated pay is worth talking about, too, but the top priority should be to eliminate the pay gap that leaves teachers lagging behind pay in this state for jobs requiring similar levels of knowledge and skill. It will take considerably higher base pay for teachers across the board if the state really aims to attract and keep the high-quality individuals our students require.

We believe the best way to make that higher base pay feasible is to increase per-pupil state funding substantially via the basic allotment. The state should earmark a portion of increased per-pupil funds to go for a pay raise using new state dollars, and the Legislature should be sure to specify that the raise is over and above the amounts already called for by local salary schedules.

Differentiated pay

Past experience with state-directed “merit pay”—including the teacher ladder abandoned in the 1990s and the Perry performance pay that lost its funding in the 2011 budget cuts—has left a bad taste in teachers’ mouths. The experience has been similar with federal funding that flowed freely for this purpose for a time and then dried up. Teachers are accordingly wary that any new “merit pay” scheme, even if the metrics are appropriate, will not last.

That said, we believe recognition of National Board-certified teachers as “accomplished” is fully justified by educational research on what teachers who have gone through this rigorous process know and can do. These are master teachers, and extra pay for this level of accomplishment is highly appropriate.

In principle, we also support using extra pay guarantees to recruit and retain high-quality teachers with needed subject-matter expertise to work at hard-to-staff campuses. Another promising basis for differentiated pay, pioneered in districts like Austin ISD, is compensation based on meeting student learning objectives voluntarily agreed upon by individual teachers and developed by them in concert with the instructional leaders at their campus.

Charter schools

It’s time to take a ‘Time Out’ on charter schools and not allow any expansion of charters until we answer some key questions about how they impact our neighborhood schools.

What we’re seeing is charter schools proliferating rapidly in several urban areas, and with each student that a charter enrolls, the public school district in that area loses funding. In some cases districts take a double whammy, because the loss of students ends up making the districts pay more in recapture—known as Robin Hood—payments to the state. We also have seen substandard results in academic achievement and ongoing abuses and criminal charges related to charter-school finances across Texas, so there’s certainly no need to keep expanding the system with dozens of new charter campuses each year without first getting firm numbers on the financial impacts and performance of these charters.

Unfortunately, many new charters also carry the ideological baggage of an agenda for privatizing our public schools. Three of the four charters granted in June are systems funded significantly by the Walton Foundation (created by the founders of Walmart), which openly states its goal for mass proliferation of charter schools across the country.

Currently, Texas law does not require a thorough analysis of how a new charter school will affect surrounding neighborhood public schools before the charter school is opened in an area. Nor is there a requirement that taxpayers be notified or consulted about how additional local taxes will be sent to the state in the form of recapture funding as a result of charter school saturation in particular Texas school districts. Texas needs those reforms put in place, and until that’s done, we need a ‘Time Out’ on charter school expansion.

Facts About Charters

  • Did you know that although Texas law caps the number of charter school holders, there is NO CAP on the number of charter school campuses. In just the past 5 years, the commissioner of education has approved 434 new charter campuses, with no public notice or input.
  • The charter amendment has become the primary way that charter schools expand in Texas.
  • There is no limit on the number of new charter schools approved through the amendment process.
  • Once a charter is granted and the charter network meets minimum TEA requirements, the charter can open an unlimited number of new charter schools through the amendment process anywhere in Texas under the sole authority of the commissioner of education.
  • In the last six years (2013 – 2018) 501 new charter schools have been approved through the amendment process (data from TEA by year).
  • In a discussion at the State Board of Education before it approved four new open-enrollment charters this spring, it was revealed that there would be a $42 million loss to local school districts over the next five years. That number jumps to $164 million over 10 years when the charters are enrolled at full capacity.
  • Two of these schools will be located within Houston ISD, which is considered a “property-wealthy” district and must send hundreds of millions of its tax dollars to the state. As more students leave HISD to attend charter schools, the amount of recapture funds Houston must send to the state also increases. For illustration, if the 35,000 Houston charter school students all returned to schools in HISD, the district would see a net increase of about $233 million, $205 million of which accounts for recapture payments
  • Charters receive an average of the per student allotment received by each district – so a very small district counts the same as Houston ISD.
  • As a result, charters receive more per student than what is received all the urban districts.
  • In fact, Leo Lopez with TEA stated at a Public School Finance Commission meeting that charters receive more per student than 95% of all students in traditional school districts.
  • Charters also receive the small to mid -size district allotment, regardless of their enrollment numbers.
  • Charters are more expensive to the state because they receive more per student and do not have local revenue. Increasing charter enrollment increases the overall costs to the state.
  • Increased charter enrollment also increases the recapture payments that districts pay to the state.
  • The additional funding that a district will receive if it is approved under SB 1882 that equalizes what charter schools in that district receive demonstrate the difference in per student funding – up to $1900 more per student to the district 1882 school.

Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.