AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Hundreds of educators traveled to the Texas State Capitol Monday to rally for more public school funding, teacher pay raises, and against proposals that would create a state fund for parents to send their children to private or charter schools.
The Texas AFT, which represents 66,000 current and retired Texas school employees, hosted a Public Education Advocacy Day, where educators met with lawmakers to discuss current proposals that would impact them.
Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT, said calls for teacher pay raises come at a critical time, and lawmakers need to pass bills to help “stem the exodus of Texas school staff.”
“Texas hasn’t even made it to the national average, we’re $7,500 below the national average, yet we’re in a state that has the ninth largest economy in the world,” he said. “We’re not doing anything about retention… focusing on vouchers, focusing on sending more money to private schools that frankly, don’t need state dollars and won’t be accountable.”
At times during the rally, the groups chanted “respect us, reject vouchers.” Austin-area teachers like Joy Nichols worry such a program would harm public schools and students in the long run.
“We’re not fully funded now and you’re talking about taking more money away…it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Maybe, in theory, it sounds great. But I do not believe in the execution of this.”
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, authored the sweeping “school choice” package. It would create state-funded “education savings accounts” that will give money to Texans to pay for education-related expenses, including private school tuition, allocating for as much as $8,000 to families.
“I think we’re in a different day and time in the outlook on educational opportunities than we even were five years ago. And I think that’s why there’s been a grassfire across this nation for parental choice and educational empowerment,” Creighton said. “This is education freedom, this is making sure that the state of Texas falls in line where we should be leading.”
He said his legislation would not take away funding from public schools, since it is a separate fund. He points to his companion bill, Senate Bill 9, which would bolster funding to Texas schools and proposes a raise for teachers, but does not have a specific dollar amount listed yet.
“Separate from public education funding, we’ll establish a funding mechanism for an education savings account for those in public schools to go to private schools, if they so choose,” he said.
There are already several other bills filed in the Legislature that would give Texas teachers and school staff across-the-board raises and increase state funding for public schools.
Teachers specifically rallied in support of House Bill 1548, which would give teachers a $15,000 pay raise.
Texas AFT members specifically brought up their union’s Respect Agenda during lawmaker meetings.
According to the release from the AFT, education policy experts estimate for every student who might leave a public school district with a voucher, a campus could expect to lose $10,000.