AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After more than two decades serving students as a special education paraeducator, Tammy Reyes feels right at home in her Galena Park school. The struggle begins, however, when she finds no place to go home after school.
“In my current situation, I’m homeless,” she said. “I’ve been in Galena Park ISD for 23-plus years, and I’m homeless. I don’t make enough. It’s rough. It’s really rough.”
Tammy makes $23,000 caring for special needs children and serving at the side of teachers. She could rely on her spouse’s income when she was married, but in the twelve years since, she leaves exhausting days only to find extra money in other jobs. Working in children’s ministry at her church helped to pad her paycheck for eight years. Cleaning houses also helped a little, until she was physically able to do no more.
“But I have a job with Galena Park that’s 40 hours. I shouldn’t have to work a second job. I shouldn’t have to work a third job,” she said. “My primary job should provide housing at the very least.”
Public records report Tammy’s wage is 58% lower than the average for her profession and 64% lower than the median salary in Galena Park ISD. An average teacher in Texas with the same years of experience makes $54,540 — almost twice as much as Tammy.
As the Texas legislature rallies once again around a pay raise for teachers, it struck school support staff like her as an insult.
“Left out,” Tammy put it.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers estimates it would cost $3.7 billion to give all support staff a 15% raise for the next two years. That is compared to the $8.9 billion it costs to give all teachers a $10,000 raise.
“That’s a drop in the bucket of a $188 billion budget with a $33 billion surplus,” Nicole Hill with the state’s American Federation of Teachers said.
State Rep. Ken King’s efforts added a few drops to that bucket when he added support staff to his major school finance bill on Thursday. House Bill 100 will provide raises of $80 per month to full-time teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, and speech pathologists. It also allows districts to use a quarter of their surplus allotment funds to provide raises to all other full-time district employees, like paraprofessionals. That bill passed 141-3.
Texas AFT called his amendment to include them “a nice gesture, but not enough.”
“We’re very proud and happy about that [amendment],” Hill said. “Just to keep up with inflation, we’d need $1,000 per student. They need to move more money into public education so the raises can actually be meaningful.”
Other lawmakers have filed legislation that would offer larger raises, but none have gained traction at this final stage of the session.
HB 1548 by State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, would give school support staff a 25% raise. That bill has not received a hearing.
“When I was a sixth-grade teacher in San Antonio, I couldn’t do anything without support staff,” Rep. Talarico said. “The fact that they are living on poverty-level wages should be unacceptable to everyone in this building.”
Talarico points to the $47 billion in the budget surplus and the state’s savings account as ample resources to provide pay raises for all school employees.
“There is no excuse. I’m hopeful my colleagues will come together and ensure that we support these professionals who are doing the educational work every day in our schools.”
State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said raises for support staff are best decided on the local level. His “Teacher Bill of Rights” gives them an extra $2,000 per year, and even though it does not include other district employees, he argued it will give districts the room to give more raises where they see fit.
“Local districts have the option through their funding mechanisms, their local tax rates, and the funding that we’re sending them through the basic allotment to make decisions on their own for other pay raises,” Sen. Creighton said. “If we take efforts to relieve school districts of having to shoulder the burden of pay raises for teachers… [they] certainly can lift up those paraprofessionals in ways that they deserve.”
For now, Tammy and the support staff for which she advocates are encouraged by the small victory in the House. Their push continues as lawmakers take a final look at the budget.
“Stop and think about what it takes to educate a child on a daily basis,” she said. “Seriously, it’s not just a teacher.”