Respecting & Supporting School Employees

In November, 66% of Texas AFT members surveyed told us they were considering leaving their jobs.

Now, we understand that many of them can’t afford to stay in those jobs.

Our union has been sounding alarm about the real crisis in our schools: the loss of dedicated, qualified teachers and school staff. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues that educators and staff have faced for a long time:

  • stagnant, low pay
  • rising workloads
  • unrealistic expectations
  • safety concerns
  • political gamesmanship

These folks love what they do. But they need respect in order to stay.

‘The Lost Decade’: How Statewide Underfunding Is Driving School Staff Shortages

In a report published in April 2022, Texas AFT and Every Texan revealed startling trends in Texas’ funding of public schools, as well as the effects that underfunding has had on teacher and staff salaries.

Among the findings of our report:  

  • Salaries of Texas public school teachers have fallen by an average of 4% over the past 11 years when adjusted for inflation.
  • Public school teachers in Texas make an average of $7,449 less than the national average teacher salary.
  • Salaries for school support staff in Texas may have risen slightly, but many roles — including paraprofessionals and food service workers — remain close to poverty-level wages.
  • Texas ranks 45th in the nation for per-pupil funding, which means fewer resources for students’ classrooms and academic programs, as well as employee salaries.
  • House Bill 3, the last major school finance bill, meanwhile, has done much more to cut tax rates for corporations than provide additional funding to public schools.

The message is clear: Our state leaders do not respect the work school employees do every day to support Texas kids and communities. That has to change.

Retaining Texas Teachers & School Staff

Four Texas AFT members share what they’re struggling with and what has them considering their future in public education.

If our state and local leaders fail to address issues like back-sliding pay, we will continue to see headlines about massive teacher and staff shortages, and we will continue to lose hard-working, experienced educators.

We know because we’ve talked to them. And they’ve told us what would keep them in their jobs: respect.

Respect means fair pay.

  • All teachers, nurses, bus drivers, counselors, and other school employees want to help students succeed. But they work in education for the income — not just the outcomes — and some across the state have a hard time even affording to live in the districts in which they work.
  • Since 2010, the average Texas teacher salary has dropped by 4% when adjusted for inflation, and starting salary teachers have dropped by 1%.
  • Meanwhile, we have paraprofessional educators making an average base pay of $22,221 — hovering close to federal poverty guidelines. Many support staff members are in similar situations.
  • 35% of Texas AFT members surveyed in November said their No. 1 workplace concern was salary.
  • 45% said pay incentives like raises or retention bonuses would make them stay in their jobs.

Respect means reasonable workloads.

  • 24% of Texas AFT members surveyed in November said their No. 1 workplace concern was their workload.
  • COVID-19 has made the problem of rising workloads even worse, with every available staff member covering multiple classes, bus routes, or other duties.
  • That added load comes at a time when many educators are trying to complete state-mandated Reading Academies, which have added anywhere from 60-120 hours of extra unpaid work to their plates.
  • Rather than blaming school employees for staffing shortages or wasting precious instructional time on STAAR preparations, the state of Texas could take action to lighten the load for the workers who have kept our schools running for three schools years disrupted by pandemic.

Respect means a secure retirement.

  • Retired educators in Texas have gone more than a decade without an increase in their pension benefits — and some have never seen one at all.
  • The average pension is just $2,118 per month, hardly enough for a dignified retirement for public servants.
  • These retirees also do not have Social Security checks to supplement their pensions, as most Texas educators are not vested in Social Security.

Parents & Teachers Are on the Same Team

Text says, "Parents express overwhelming support for teachers, their unions and public education. 72 percent of parents say their school provides excellent or good-quality education, and 78 percent endorse the quality and performance of their teachers."

There are politicians in this state who have tried to drive a wedge between parents and teachers for their political gain.

But this is an invented divide, something you realize when you actually listen to parents.

A recent national poll commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers shows that parents overwhelmingly support public schools and teachers:  

  • 72% of parents surveyed say their children’s public school provides them with an excellent or good quality education.
  • 78% said they think the quality and performance of their children’s teachers is excellent or good.
  • 79% are satisfied with their children’s public schools when it comes to helping their children reach their full potential.
Bar chart showing parents' rating of teachers' performance from April 2010, July 2013, and December 2021. In 2010, 62 percent of parents rated the quality and performance of public school teachers as good or excellent. In 2013, the number rose to 71 percent. In 2021, the number is 78 percent.

In fact, parents’ rating of public school teachers’ performance has grown even stronger during the pandemic.

Texas Parents Trust Teachers

A poll of Texas public school parents released this year by the Charles Butt Foundation shows overwhelming parent support for public schools and, specifically, teachers.

  • 63% of Texans think salaries for teachers in their community are too low, including majorities across political lines.
  • 69% of Texans think public school teachers are undervalued in society.
  • 71% of Texans trust teachers a good or great amount to make decisions that support students.

According to the poll, Texas parents trust their children’s teachers to make decisions in their best interests more than principals (59%), school boards (42%), and state elected officials (24%).

Parents’ Education Concerns

Parents do have concerns about their children’s education — and rightly so. But those concerns mirror those of school employees. Parents understand that employee working conditions are their students’ learning conditions.

In the survey from AFT, parents identified several top education problems they were very or fairly concerned about, including several directly related to school staffing issues:

  • Shortages of guidance counselors, social workers, and nurses (75%)
  • Students not getting enough individual attention (69%)
  • Inadequate funding for schools (68%)
  • Teachers not being paid enough (65%)
  • Shortages of full-time and substitute teachers (65%)

To address these real concerns, parents and school employees need to work together to elect leaders who will listen and respect their voices. Our union has plenty of ways to get involved in electing real educators and allies.