Texas AFT Membership Survey Results a “Disaster Declaration” for Public Education   

As Texans vote in party primaries where public education and private school vouchers are front and center, Texas AFT has now released the results of our latest annual membership survey. The results — what you, our members, told us — are making headlines across the state.   

Following chronic underfunding and Gov. Greg Abbott’s political tantrums, Texas schools are facing a teacher retention crisis, an educator shortage, and major layoffs across the state. According to Texas Academic Performance Reports from the Texas Education Agency, the turnover rate for teachers in the 2022-2023 school year was 21.4%, an 81% increase from the 2009-2010 school year. All these challenges come at a time when Texas has an unprecedented budget surplus.  

“The teacher retention crisis is here, and Texas educators are ringing the fire alarm. They’ve heard a lot of promises from politicians, but they have seen little action,” said Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT. “We should consider the results of this survey to be the public education disaster declaration that Gov. Abbott doesn’t care enough to make. What should gall every Texan is how loudly their children’s teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, and bus drivers are begging for support and how little this state’s leadership has for them. Gov. Abbott is campaigning with the richest man in Pennsylvania’s money while your child’s school burns.” 

Our Key Takeaways  

The survey solicited responses from 3,274 Texas AFT members in January 2024. That number includes:   

  • 2,320 K-12 certified staff  
  • 428 K-12 classified staff  
  • 326 retired educators  
  • 200 higher education employees  

Insights from each of these groups are valuable, and we will be using them to guide our work over the next year. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most important findings for each group of members.  

K-12 Employees  

Let’s start here: 68.9% of K-12 educators — teachers, librarians, bus drivers, custodians, nurses, and more — reported that they have considered leaving the profession in the past year. That number has stayed remarkably consistent in the three years since we first asked it, always hovering around two-thirds of K-12 employees surveyed.  

As distressing as that may be, it does make sense. The two things Texas AFT members consistently say would keep them in their jobs have gone entirely unaddressed by state lawmakers: higher salaries and manageable workloads. This year, 72.2% of members said those two things would be likely to retain them as educators.   

Hotline readers will remember that over the course of five legislative sessions last year, multiple bills to improve working conditions in our schools were left in the Legislature’s dustbin, while Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Senate held educator pay raises hostage for a private school voucher program (that still did not pass).   

Some other important findings:   

  • 74.8% report experiencing burnout in the past 12 months.   
  • 92.1% say they plan to vote in March and November, and 95.6% say education issues influence who they will support.   
  • 77.5% of educators fear that privatization efforts like charter school expansion and private school vouchers will negatively impact their public school, including 59.4% of Republican educators surveyed.  
  • 82.4% of K-12 employees say they are concerned by the possibility of gun violence at their campus.  

Higher Education Employees  

The news is not all that much better for our higher education members. Among this group, 52.7% say they’re seriously considering leaving their jobs. Much like their K-12 peers, paychecks are the top reason behind this decision, with 53% ranking pay incentives as the No. 1 solution that would help them stay in the profession.   

Let’s hear from a few those members:   

  • “Cost of living, just all the stress, but the students keep me there.”  
  • “Because I do the work of people in higher paid positions, and there is no career trajectory that is clear for me at my campus in my community.”  
  • “The culture. Public-facing, my institution calls attention to student success and uses it as a selling point. However, to staff who are in charge of student success programs and initiatives, that seems like nothing but the institution saving face. Our budgets get cut while others get raised. We do more with less staff and support.”   

Unsurprisingly, over half of Texas AFT higher education members say they’re experiencing burnout, and over 60% report that they’re so exhausted by the end of a workday that they’re unable to do anything else in their off time.   

Some other important findings:   

  • 89.3% say they plan to vote in March and November, and 91.2% say education issues influence who they will support.   
  • 81.1% of higher education employees say they are concerned by the possibility of gun violence at their campus, while 4.9% report that their campus has already experienced an incident of gun violence.  
  • Just 40% of our higher education members say they feel supported by their administration.   

Retired Educators   

Just a few months after the overwhelming passage of Proposition 9 and the first TRS cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in two decades, we asked our retired members several questions about how they’re feeling.  

Many of the results are personal stories that we will review and reflect on more deeply in the coming months, but we do want to share some key findings:   

Among those who retired for a different reason than reaching retirement eligibility, 18% said they retired because of workload and extra duties, 8.7% mentioned workplace safety concerns, and another 3.1% cited inadequate pay.   

How do our retired members plan to use their TRS COLA or supplemental checks? Most (33.6%) are using it for day-to-day expenses like groceries. Sadly, 28.8% said they received neither the COLA nor the 13th check, a glaring hole we lobbied against in the 88th Legislature.