Month: April 2019

The school funding hole in Texas is a lot deeper than $6.3 billion

Let us assume for a moment that legislators – either during the closing weeks of this regular session or in a summer special session – will agree on a plan to boost state funding for public schools by $6.3 billion over the next two years. If they do, applaud politely but don’t get carried away.

Think of $6.3 billion as a down payment on long-neglected repairs, the start of a long climb out of a deep hole, and make it clear to the governor and lawmakers that we expect them to make school finance improvements a priority for years to come.

I say $6.3 billion because this is the amount of new education funding that the House and the Senate have approved in separate legislation but with different details for spending it. House and Senate leaders are attempting to find agreement on those differences.

Even with the new funding, though, the hole for educators and Texas school children will remain very deep. As indicated by the National Education Association’s latest analysis of TEA’s school finance data, Texas is actually spending $71 less per student in average daily attendance (ADA) this school year than it did in 2017-18.

NEA determined that Texas is spending an average $10,712 per student in 2018-19, the school year drawing to a close, compared to $10,783 last year. This includes state, local and federal funding for school operations. It is more than $2,900 below the national average and ranks Texas 39th in per-ADA spending among the states and the District of Columbia.

The average teacher salary in Texas increased from $53,334 in 2017-18 to $54,155 in 2018-19 but still trailed the national average of $61,700 by more than $7,000.

“These figures mean overcrowded classrooms, high teacher turnover and a growing threat to the Texas economy,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria pointed out.

“We are happy that the Legislature is taking steps this session to increase state funding for public schools, but this will be only a down payment. It will take several more sessions to fully overcome years of neglect and misplaced priorities,” he added.

Candelaria also noted: “School finance changes must include guaranteed pay raises for all teachers and all other school employees who devote every day to educating our children and providing for their safety and well-being.”

Don’t take the school nurse (or any other school employee) for granted

The teacher is probably the first job description that most of us associate with a public school, but yesterday a school nurse also grabbed my attention when my 13-year-old daughter had a brief, but scary, health-related incident during her middle-school math class in Austin ISD.

For probably the first time all school year, Caroline forgot to pack her water bottle when she needed it, and I forgot to double check when I drove her to school. During her first period PE class, she did a lot of running, practicing with other members of the track team for a meet later this week, and apparently became dehydrated.

She made it to second period math, where a classmate alerted the teacher that Caroline wasn’t responding to what was going on around here, but was just kind of staring off into space. Caroline remembers feeling dizzy, and her blood pressure had dropped. The teacher alerted the nurse, someone produced a water bottle, and my daughter soon began to return to normal under the nurse’s care.

Fortunately, this was a minor incident of no great concern to anyone but Caroline’s family. But the incident reminds me that it is easy to overlook the work of school nurses – until you need one.

My point is this. Even parents of school children take school nurses for granted. We take bus drivers for granted, although these same drivers deliver thousands of children to and from school safely every day, often under very challenging traffic conditions. We take cafeteria workers for granted, custodians for granted, school security officers for granted, and the list goes on.

We, as parents, also take teachers for granted, and our attitude is one reason that teachers, nurses, counselors, bus drivers and other rank-and-file school employees have been traditionally underpaid in Texas.

We haven’t demanded that the governor and the Legislature do something about it. When most parents barely know that a school nurse exists until their kid skins a knee on the playground – or nearly passes out in class — how are school nurses going to get the Legislature’s attention?

Maybe all that will begin to change this session. Maybe.

The Senate has approved a $5,000 pay raise for teachers and librarians, but nothing for nurses, bus drivers or anyone else who helps our school children get safely through the school day. The House has approved a much smaller raise for all school employees, except administrators. Leaders of both chambers will now start negotiating a compromise, and we have to do our part of make sure no one gets left out.

It’s time for more parents – not just those employed by teachers’ unions — to start really appreciating the jobs that all school employees do for our children every day. By that I mean it is time for parents to contact their elected legislators and demand that they reward these dedicated workers – all of them – with significant raises for the work they do.

Teacher Appreciation Week, or Nurse Appreciation Week – is there one? – are fine gestures, but they don’t pay the bills.