Teachers are losing hope that lawmakers will give them a big raise this session
By Brian Lopez, The Texas Tribune
“Teachers are losing hope that lawmakers will give them a big raise this session” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
With less than a month left in the legislative session, the odds that teachers will get the kind of raise they say they badly need are rapidly diminishing.
Teachers had hoped this would be the year the Texas Legislature would approve a substantial across-the-board pay raise for them as lawmakers, tasked with deciding how to spend a historic budget surplus, vowed to address the state’s yearslong teacher shortage.
But some of the ambitious proposals to put more money in teachers’ wallets — including a bill that would have given every teacher in Texas a $15,000 raise — never made it out of the House or Senate education committees, which have to give first approval to a bill before it gets a full vote by either chamber.
The bills calling for raises left and with the most chances of passing are Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and House Bill 100 by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian. Both would offer significantly more modest raises.
There are still avenues through which big raises could get approved, but it’s becoming an increasingly unlikely scenario.
Cecil Lanoux, a teacher at North East Independent School District in San Antonio who has been an educator since 1999, said he’s used to hearing legislators float the idea of giving teachers a big raise every session, but this year, the possibility that lawmakers might use some of the surplus to help fund big raises had him “pretty darn excited.” Now that the more generous proposals are all but dead, he feels that the ones still on the table will fall short as usual.
“I’ve been in this long enough that it just gets demoralizing,” Lanoux said.
SB 9 would give teachers a one-time bonus of $2,000, plus an additional $4,000 for those who work in districts with less than 20,000 students. It was voted out of the Senate and still needs House approval before going to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Teachers and unions have criticized the use of districts’ student enrollment to decide which educators get the bigger bonus, saying it’s a less-than-ideal way to determine who needs the money the most. Creighton has said the $6,000 bonus is aimed at helping rural school teachers, as they are usually paid less than their urban and suburban counterparts.
A Texas Tribune analysis shows that teachers in major suburban and urban school districts get paid an average of about $61,432, almost $10,000 more than those teaching in rural areas. Costs of living are usually higher in larger metropolitan areas.
Some teachers said they should all be valued the same. Chana Jones, a kindergarten teacher at Snyder ISD, a district with less than 3,000 students about an hour and a half away from Midland, would get the $6,000 bonus but said she doesn’t think the raise is a fair assessment of Texas teachers.
“The size of the campus doesn’t devalue my passion,” she said.
Zeph Capo, president of Texas American Federation of Teachers, questioned how much thought went into deciding who gets a raise.
“I do think that at least for somebody, somewhere, there was a legitimate concern for what we do for rural teachers that are at the lower salary schedules, because they also are in a crisis,” he said. “But they were either lazy on how they put [SB 9] together or didn’t really think it through.”
In the lower chamber, HB 100 would raise the base amount of money a district gets per student, which is currently $6,160 per student and has not increased since 2019. The bill is the lower chamber’s response to the recommendations of a task force formed last year by Abbott to look into the causes of the state’s teacher shortage.
HB 100 would raise the district’s allotment per student to $6,250 next school year and to $6,300 in 2025, when the state would consider raising that amount more to account for inflation. It would also require districts, which currently have to use 30% of the state funds they receive to pay for employee raises, to increase that share to 50%.
The bill also updates the base amount of money that teachers should make depending on their experience. Currently, a teacher with 10 years of experience has to be paid at least $45,630. Under HB 100, that teacher would need to be paid at least $55,000 if they don’t have a teaching certificate and at least $60,000 if they do.
But the raise teachers would receive from King’s bill is far from what they had hoped, with some estimates showing teachers would get about an extra $100 a month in their paychecks at best.
Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, the lawmaker who had proposed giving all Texas teachers a $15,000 raise, said he’s glad lawmakers are still considering some kind of pay bump, but the remaining proposals don’t offer teachers nearly enough.
“We have teachers in our state who are driving Ubers at night and selling their own blood plasma for extra money,” he said. “We have so much money that that decision not to help our teachers and our students is immoral to me.”
Texas ranks 28th in the nation for teacher pay, $7,652 less than the national average, according to the latest National Education Association report. Increasing pay was one of the recommendations from the governor’s teacher shortage task force as a way to attract and retain educators.
To address the shortage, lawmakers so far this session have advanced other bills that aim to keep new teachers longer in the profession, make it easier for retired educators to be hired, and help teachers spend less time planning lessons and less money on purchasing teaching materials out of pocket.
It has been particularly difficult for schools to fill the positions of the teachers who have left the profession recently. Since the 2011-12 school year, about 10% of teachers in Texas have left the field each year. That number dipped to about 9% during the 2020-21 school year but is going back up — rising to almost 12% during the 2021-22 school year.
Lawmakers this session were given a $32.7 billion surplus to allocate, but neither the House nor the Senate has made plans to spend the entirety of it.
Both chambers have approved separate proposals that would give school districts billions of dollars so they can lower the taxes they collect from property owners. But that money is just for schools to break even. When the House voted for its version of the state’s budget for the next two years, members rejected every amendment that would’ve diverted additional funds from property tax reform to boost teacher pay.
Other efforts to get teachers more money also failed. Sen. Morgan LaMantia, D-South Padre Island, tried to amend SB 9 to include a $10,000 a year across-the-board raise, but the measure didn’t pass. Creighton said during the floor debate last month that such an increase would cost the state billions of dollars more and unbalance the budget.
Other lawmakers have echoed that argument, saying that using the surplus to pay for teacher raises would be unsustainable.
“I want to do everything I can — within reason — to ensure that we are not facing a situation two years, four years, six years from now where we’re needing to cut $5 billion from public education,” said Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, a joint author on HB 100.
With the legislative session in its final stretch, lawmakers from both chambers will enter negotiations over what will make it into the final budget draft, but significant teacher raises look more and more like a long shot.
For Chandra Villanueva, director of policy and advocacy for the progressive think tank Every Texan, the inaction on meaningful teacher raises makes it clear that educators are not a priority this session.
“We still see that the Legislature is prioritizing these tax cuts over actually funding our schools,” she said.
Small increases not enough
Lanoux said a $15,000 raise like the one that Talarico proposed would’ve been a “quality-of-life change” for him and his wife, Christina Richardson, who is also a teacher at North East ISD. It would’ve made paying their bills and student loans a little bit easier, he said.
Lanoux said his salary only recently rose above $60,000 a year. His wife, who has been in education for about a decade, makes slightly above $52,000.
If they have to make a big purchase, they usually put it on their credit card and work summer school — like Richardson has done for the last five years — to eventually pay it off. After rent, insurance, bills and other necessities, Richardson said they’d be in trouble if they had an emergency that cost more than $500.
“That would break us,” she said.
Richardson is still hanging on to the hope that lawmakers will find a way to squeeze in a bigger pay raise, but Lanoux — who worked at the Capitol for some time — said he doesn’t get excited about lawmakers making promises about raises anymore.
For some teachers, leaving the profession has been the easiest way to make more money. Lanoux has tried to search for options outside of education, even calling up his old boss at the Capitol, but it just hasn’t panned out.
“I wanted to [leave], but nobody seems to be interested in a mid-career, middle- to low-income teacher,” he said.
Jones, the Snyder ISD teacher, clears about $3,300 a month and spends anywhere from $200 to $400 of that amount in supplies for her classroom. She is able to afford it only because she shares her other expenses with her husband.
She said she’d welcome the $6,000 one-time bonus proposed in SB 9, but she feels like the state could be investing more money in teachers instead of trying to spend half a billion on voucher-like programs.
“I feel like I’m not valued. I’m not a priority,” she said.
Disclosure: Every Texan and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Tickets are on sale now for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening in downtown Austin on Sept. 21-23. Get your TribFest tickets by May 31 and save big!
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/05/10/texas-legislature-teachers-pay/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.