H-E-B's Butt pledges $50 million more to education efforts

One of Texas’ most prominent philanthropists made another splash Monday, pledging $50 million to a program that will train public school teachers.

Student teacher Antonio Salmeron teaches a class as part of the UTeach Program at UT-Austin on July 10, 2017.

Austin Price / The Texas Tribune

*Correction appended

Charles Butt, the chairman and CEO of H-E-B and one of Texas’ most prominent philanthropists, made another splash Monday, pledging $50 million to a program that will train public school teachers.

The donation comes in the form of a new scholarship program, Raising Texas Teachers, which will be run by the Butt-founded Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Ten schools, including the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas at Dallas, will receive funding this year for student scholarships. Eventually, the program will give 500 college students $8,000 per year to help them pursue teaching certifications.

“To improve academic achievement, it is critical that Texas elevate the status of the teaching profession, strengthen the existing pool of aspiring teachers, and inspire our most talented high school graduates to consider a career in teaching,” Butt said in a news release.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Earlier this year, Butt, the billionaire leader of the Texas-based grocery chain, pledged an additional $100 million to the creation of the Holdsworth Center, a nonprofit that works with state school districts to strengthen their leadership programs. 

Thea Ulrich-Lewis, a research and program associate for Raise Your Hand Texas, said Raising Texas Teachers will also help universities that don’t receive scholarship money improve their teacher prep programs.

The announcement of the $50 million commitment came on the day that Gov. Greg Abbott formally called legislators back to Austin for a summer special legislative session. Previously, Abbott had advocated for a $1,000 raise for Texas teachers. He tweaked that language Monday, calling for an increase in average salaries and “legislation to provide a more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers."

Mark Daniels, a UT-Austin math professor and the co-director of the school’s UTeach teacher prep program in natural sciences, said although state-funded salary and benefit increases would be nice for teachers, Butt’s gift shows that there is more than one way to make teaching in Texas more enticing to students.

“If we can’t directly raise teacher salaries, perhaps we can relieve some of the burden in paying for undergraduate education and loans that have to be paid off after graduation,” he said.

Daniels spoke with reporters Monday at UT-Austin while a UTeach student taught Austin-area middle schoolers as part of a summer program. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cinthia Salinas, chair of curriculum and instruction at UT-Austin's College of Education, said both increasing funding — and providing other support like more planning time — are important when it comes to generating interest in teaching among college students.

“Teachers are the fundamental building block that determine whether schools are going to be successful,” she said. 

Disclosure: H-E-B, Charles Butt, Raise Your Hand Texas and the University of Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect title for Cinthia Salinas and misspelled her name.