Special for The Dallas Examiner
AUSTIN — “When I say ‘respect,’ you mean ‘we,'” Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, shouted Monday from a stage outside the Texas AFL-CIO.
The crowd of several hundred Texas school employees responded enthusiastically in unison.
“When I say ‘decline,’ you say ‘voucher,'” they replied.
The Q&A at the afternoon rally summed up the theme of Texas AFT’s Public Education Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol: a rousing call for more state funding for public schools – and increases in public school employees – and against several projects of law that would jeopardize that funding through private school vouchers.
In all, more than 500 Texas public school teachers and employees, including cafeteria workers, nurses and counselors, participated in a day of events in and around the Capitol. Nearly 20 independent school districts were represented by members of the group’s local affiliates.
School employees visit legislators
Teachers and school employees filled the Capitol, visiting the offices of their representatives and senators. Texas AFT members took the opportunity to share their personal experiences with lawmakers, including inquiring about the whereabouts of their elected representatives on several key bills, including:
- House Bills 31 and 135 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) and Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which would raise money for public schools by switching to enrollment-based funding
- House Bill 882 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would link increases in the state’s baseline allocation for schools to the consumer price index
- House Bill 1548 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would provide teachers and certified school staff a $15,000 raise and support staff a 25% raise
- House Bill 301 by Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford), which would provide retired educators with a 6 percent cost of living increase over their pensions
“People’s Hearing” puts educators in the decision-making forums
In the afternoon, Texas AFT hosted a “People’s Hearing” at the Agricultural Museum at the Texas Capitol. A small committee of current and retired teachers and school staff members shared their stories and heard invited testimony from several lawmakers and policy experts.
Pearl West, head of infant nutrition at Northside AFT, addressed the attendees.
“I’m here today to bring to light the fact that as a full-time employee, manager for six years in the district, last year, my gross income was $20,132.17 to support my two children,” he said West. “I feed several hundred hungry students a day and struggle to feed my own two.”
Representatives James Talarico, Alma Allen and Venton Jones, as well as Senator Morgan LaMantia, outlined the bills they have or will file to meet needs identified by Texas school employees for substantial raises, increased staffing investment and quality of life improvements .
A recording of the hearing is available on the group’s Facebook page.
Educators unite against the good guys
As the day ended, attendees headed down the road to the Texas AFL-CIO. They listened to public school stakeholders such as teachers, parents, and students, along with a variety of allies.
Speakers at the event included Lynn Davenport, a strong opponent of both privatization and data collection in education technology; Dr. Michael Bell, senior pastor at Greater St. Stephen First Church-Baptist of Fort Worth; and Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education Foundation.
The resounding message: How can the state of Texas try to implement school voucher programs that have cost other states billions of dollars when it already ranks 39th in the nation in public school funding?
“If we were fully funded, we wouldn’t be losing teachers left and right,” Capo said, dismissing Gov. Greg Abbott’s claim that he had “fully funded” public education. “If we provided the necessary supports, we wouldn’t lose 50% of our new teachers every year.”
Public Education Funding Research Release
Last year, Texas AFT partnered with the non-profit political organization Every Texan to create The Lost Decade, a report outlining the dire landscape of Texas public education funding. Notably, that report highlighted that Texas teacher salaries had declined, on average, over the past decade and that many support staff members were working for poverty-level wages.
Building on that research base, the two groups teamed up to conduct another study. On Wednesday, the groups released Fully Funded, Fully Respected: The Plan for Texas Public Schools.
The recent report presented an answer to the question, “What do fully funded public schools look like?” presenting potential cost and budget savings for teacher and staff increases, staff augmentation, student services investments, and other components of the Texas AFT compliance agenda. The Dallas Examiner will publish the findings in an upcoming article.