Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
While there’s still time this year for Texas lawmakers to carve out legislation to raise teachers’ pay, educators remain disappointed that they will enter the school year uncertain about what those raises could be.
“It is very frustrating because we have such high hopes as educators,” Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said Tuesday at a Texas Tribune event in Austin. “Most of the superintendents I know have to go into deficit budgets in order to be able to provide any kind of raises.”
Despite entering the regular session with a record $32.7 billion surplus for Texas, legislators failed to reach an agreement on teacher pay increases.
Elizalde spoke at the event alongside state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, San Antonio teacher Laura Herrera and Texas Private Schools Association executive director, Laura Colangelo. In the conversation, moderated by Tribune public education reporter Brian Lopez, participants spoke about the 2023 Texas Legislature, school funding, teacher pay, a potential voucher-like program for Texas and school safety.
Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:
Creighton, who chairs the Texas Senate’s Education Committee, acknowledged that approval for teacher pay raises failed to make it through the finish line during the regular legislative session due to the lack of agreement between the House and the Senate. Senate Bill 9, which he helped author, would have paid a one-time bonus of $2,000-$6,000 to teachers, but it failed.
He said he hopes lawmakers will come to an agreement on teacher pay during a new special session expected later this year.
Several other education bills did not move forward this year because of disagreements between the House and Senate, Creighton said. Near the end of the regular session, several of these ideas were incorporated into a single omnibus bill, House Bill 100, but it also ran out of time due to a lack of agreement among lawmakers by the deadline.
“When we come back again in the special, all of these priorities will culminate and we’ll put forward the money that was set aside and already approved in the budget,” Creighton said.
For Elizalde, it was particularly frustrating that the salary increases didn’t move forward given that a task force created by Abbott recommended pay raises as a way to address the state’s critical teacher shortages.
Elizalde said Dallas ISD gave teachers an average 3.3% raise, but school districts that want to raise salaries have had to incur deficits to increase salaries.
“Salaries are not one-time expenditures,” Elizalde said. “You can’t pay your mortgage with your credit card. Our revenue has to be able to equal our expenditures.”
Herrera acknowledged school districts’ efforts to raise salaries and criticized the lack of state support that led to school budget shortfalls.
“I live paycheck to paycheck,” Herrera said. “I just feel like we are expected to do superhero things, but we’re not paid in the way we are expected.”
So far, teachers are the only state employees who haven’t received raises this year.
Education savings accounts
Abbott has declared voucher-like programs — which would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition and other educational expenses — a priority this year. The governor is expected to call another special session this fall to address the issue.
But whether such a proposal can garner enough support remains to be seen. Democrats and several Republicans in rural counties have raised concerns that school vouchers could lead to fewer funds for public schools.
Creighton, a proponent of instituting a voucher-like program, said Tuesday that such concerns are overstated and ignore students who could benefit immediately from them.
Creighton added that a voucher-like program would only affect a small number of children — about 1% of Texas students — who seek private alternatives. He noted that $500 million was planned during the regular session for the initiative.
“It’s absolutely absurd that 50,000 or 60,000 children that need help in other alternatives would be a threat to public schools,” Creighton said. He said that the issue would definitely come up in a special session because parents “demanded it.”
Creighton added that resistance to vouchers by school districts is typical of a “protectionist mindset” that protects institutions rather than kids’ education.
Colangelo said her organization’s main interest was offering parents more schooling options, and that she would not defend legislation pushing for a voucher-like program if it hurt public schools. Education savings accounts, the voucher-like program proposed this regular session, “are not private school subsidies. They are ways for families to access the education they need,” Colangelo said. “The rich kids already have a choice. We’re just asking that families that can’t afford private schools that need another option have that opportunity.”
Elizalde questioned the idea of public money being used to pay for private schools without them being just as accountable as public schools are for student academic outcomes. And she denied that superintendents have protectionist mentalities.
“To think that educators would put an organization above students is completely opposite of what public school educators do each and every day,” Elizalde said. “I do not think it’s fair to say that we are protectionists because we’re concerned.”
The next special session
Revised proposals for teacher salary increases are expected to come up during an upcoming special session.
“I am hopeful that in October something could be addressed because inflation since 2019 has affected everything,” Elizalde said about her hopes for teacher pay raises.
But Creighton received pushback from Elizalde and some audience members who questioned why new school funding had to be tied to a voucher-like program.
Creighton said the two priorities ended up roped into the same piece of legislation during the regular session only because previous bills carrying those proposals separately failed to move forward amid disagreement between the two chambers.
He also noted he believes that education funding, teacher pay and voucher-like programs could be part of the same debate.
“I don’t know if we did couple those together that it would be inappropriate,” Creighton said. “It’s just about a strategy.”
Disclosure: The Texas Tribune is 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.
Join us for conversations that matter with newly announced speakers at the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, in downtown Austin from Sept. 21-23.