Month: January 2019

Who is overpaid? Teachers aren’t, but what about superintendents…or the governor?

Did you know that about 350 school superintendents in Texas are paid more than the governor? Kara Belew, one of the school privatization advocates at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, pointed that out in an oped on school finance.

Sounds like she was suggesting that maybe some superintendents are overpaid. Some educators, on the other hand, believe the governor is overpaid, if you weigh his $150,000 annual salary against his lackluster support for the school children of Texas.

Sure, some superintendents – 100 of whom, Belew notes, make $250,000 a year or more – are overpaid. Many others may be underpaid. But superintendents are not the issue in school finance because all their salaries combined make only a minor dent in the public education budget. Based on TSTA’s analysis of TEA data, traditional public school districts spend about 3.2 percent of their total funding on central administration, less than the 6 percent that charter schools do.

Nor is the issue the size of the school support staff, which TPPF notes has increased significantly over the past 20 years or so, out of proportion to the increase in school enrollment. A growing student enrollment requires more bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance employees and security personnel, and it is not realistic to suggest that all schools were adequately staffed 20 years ago, or now for that matter.

The real issue is the state’s chronic under-funding of public schools — $2,300 per-student below the national average. That includes low teacher pay, which trails the national average by $7,300 a year. This governor and his immediate predecessor have both neglected that key responsibility of the office, but now, with an improved budgetary outlook, Gov. Abbott has an opportunity to start repairing the damage.

The gulf between superintendent and teacher salaries, as Belew notes, is huge. And you begin to address that problem by giving all teachers a permanent, across-the-board pay raise. You don’t single out a handful of teachers for “merit” or “incentive” pay as Abbott and the Texas Public Policy Foundation are seeking. (So is Lt. Gov. Patrick, although he is pairing his “merit” pay proposal with an across-the-board $5,000 teacher pay boost.)

Belew calls an across-the-board teacher pay raise “wasteful.” In truth, what is wasteful is failing to give all teachers a substantial pay increase. That failure would continue to force thousands of effective teachers to flee the classroom each year in search of professions that pay a more-livable income.

Texas has a whole stateful of effective teachers. We need to keep all of them in the classroom.

Want to abolish STAAR? It won’t happen if you don’t help.

I know there is a lot of opposition to STAAR among parents (myself included) and teachers out there, and many people are applauding state Rep. Brooks Landgraf of Odessa for filing House Bill 736, which would drastically reduce the role that standardized testing now plays in the lives of public school students and educators.

But, as of now, that bill has a slim chance, if any, of passing. STAAR testing has become entrenched in the highest levels of the state’s educational bureaucracy, and it will become even more stressful for children, not less, as the A-F grading law is fully implemented with letter grades assigned to individual schools later this year. That’s because those grades will be largely determined by STAAR scores.

The only way Landgraf’s bill is going to have a chance of passing — and the only way the A-F law is going to be repealed — is if legislators hear from their constituents, loudly and clearly, throughout the session that you have had it with high-stakes testing and demand that they do away with it and the letter grades. Tell your legislators to give public schools more resources, not more stress.

It’s fine to contact the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker. They also need to hear from you. But so does your own state representative and state senator –and throughout the session. Make sure they know that you are a voter in their district. If you don’t know who your state representative or state senator is, or you aren’t sure, go to this link and fill in your home address to find out who they are and how to contact them.

You don’t like STAAR testing? One state representative has taken a first step toward doing something about it, and you and your friends have started applauding him on Facebook and Twitter. That’s fine, but that won’t do much good unless you and your friends also start contacting your legislators and demanding that they actively support the bill and push it to passage.

Otherwise, like a lot of other good ideas, it will be ignored and end up on the legislative trash heap.

Merit-pay education “reformers” miss the real problem

People who fancy themselves as education “reformers” and persist in advocating for “merit pay” for teachers – that is, singling out a relative handful of teachers for higher pay based largely on student test scores or some other data-driven hoop they can jump through – are missing the real problem.

Here is the real problem, and it has several, inter-related parts:

# Virtually all of Texas’ 350,000 or so school teachers are underpaid.

# Thirty-nine percent are so underpaid that they have to take extra jobs during the school year to meet their families’ needs.

# Their modest salaries are further eroded by rising health insurance premiums, now averaging $359 a month.

# The state of Texas underfunds public education so badly that these same teachers, on average, spend $738 a year on classroom supplies for which they are not reimbursed.

# Their pay is so bad that anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of the teachers have quit or will quit the profession by the time they finish their fifth year in the classroom.

Singling out a handful of these teachers for “merit” pay is not going to solve this problem. Every school child deserves a “high-quality, effective teacher,” the would-be reformers say. They have Gov. Greg Abbott’s ear, but they ignore the fact that hundreds of effective teachers are leaving Texas classrooms every year for more financially rewarding professions. And these departing teachers would have become even more effective if they had been paid enough to stay.

Like “reformers,” teachers have families and bills to pay, and you can’t pay the rent or the mortgage or the grocery bill on dedication alone.

For the first time in a long time, some legislative leaders are actually talking about giving every teacher a real pay raise this year. A Senate bill, if enacted and fully funded, would give every teacher a $5,000 annual raise to be paid for by the state. This would be a positive step toward making up the $7,300 that the average teacher salary in Texas lags behind the national average.

Is it enough? Not really. But it may be enough to keep many effective and soon-to-be-even-more effective teachers in the classroom who otherwise would be walking out the door at the end of this school year.

And that would benefit more school children than any selective “merit pay” plan being conjured up by “reformers.”

What real school finance reform is…and isn’t

 

Gov. Greg Abbott sounded ambitious in his welcoming remarks to the state Senate on the opening day of the legislative session. “We are going to solve school finance reform and property tax reform this session,” he declared.

Maybe they will. But if legislators don’t realistically address school finance and property taxes while they are in Austin, much of the blame will rest on Abbott. So, the governor better quit being an obstacle and start being a leader.

Abbott has been a major hindrance to school finance improvements and property tax relief during the first four years of his administration. He and legislative allies have squeezed state funding of public education while the local, property tax share of the Foundation School Program has steadily risen to 62 percent. And the governor’s only answer so far has been to try to impose arbitrary tax limits on local elected officials that, if enacted, would lead to crippling cuts in important public services.

The governor can start leading by coming up with a new plan, a real plan that starts with a significant appropriation of new state dollars into the public education budget. That’s the way you begin to reform education and provide property tax relief.

“Reform” is a tricky word and maybe one of the most over-used and mis-used words in the political dialogue. Most of the definitions I have read for “reform” include imposing change with the intent to improve, not imposing change merely for change’s sake or for political advantage and certainly not imposing change for the worse.

Property tax “reform,” as I suggested above, is not impeding the ability of local officials to provide for the needs of their constituents. School finance “reform” also is not a lot of things.

School finance “reform” is not diverting tax dollars to vouchers or education savings accounts. That would worsen the school funding system by transferring tax dollars to private schools and undermining our already underfunded public schools.

School finance “reform” is not promoting more takeovers of struggling schools by corporate charter chains and disregarding important instructional standards for students and employment safeguards for educators.

School finance “reform” also is not providing “merit pay” raises to a small number of teachers, based on the unreasonably narrow factor of STAAR scores, while ignoring the needs of their colleagues.

Real school finance reform and property tax reform will begin with a significant increase in state appropriations for public schools to provide resources for all educators and students. Texas spends about $2,300 less per student per year than the national average, ranking us 36th among the states and the District of Columbia.

We must do better than that, and Comptroller Glenn Hegar has said legislators will have $9 billion in additional general revenue for education and other needs this session. They also will have a savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, with a record balance of $15 billion in taxpayer money.

The revenue is there to begin real school finance reform. Now, the governor needs to match his rhetoric with some political will.