teacher pay

Dan Patrick’s Happy New Year greeting to teachers…or maybe not


I received my Happy New Year email from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick the other day. It was mostly a message reminding me of what a great leader he thinks he is and reminding me of his political priorities – a secure border, lean and efficient government, property tax relief, protecting Second Amendment rights, religious liberty, freedom, etc.

It also included this message: “Fixing school finance and giving our teachers the $10,000 raise that I advocated for in the 2017 special session are also top priorities for me when the (new legislative) session begins next week. We must invest in our teachers – next to a parent, they are the most important part of a student’s education.”

Sounds promising…until you remember that Dan Patrick never advocated for a $10,000 teacher pay raise during the 2017 special session. What he did do was call a news conference, display some charts and propose that teacher pay raises and bonuses be squeezed out of the existing, under-funded public education budget. Under his “plan,” if you want to call it that, the extra teacher compensation would have come from lottery proceeds already dedicated to education and by requiring school districts to squeeze 5 percent out of their existing budgets for pay raises.

Patrick didn’t call for a single cent of additional state funding for teacher pay. That isn’t advocacy. That is flim-flam.

Commenting at the time, TSTA President Noel Candelaria called Patrick’s pronouncement “hollow” and a “mythical, pie-in-the-sky promise” because it didn’t include additional state funding.

Gov. Greg Abbott also dangled the idea of a teacher pay raise in 2017, but he didn’t propose a way to pay for one. Instead, Abbott applauded while the Patrick-led Senate killed a House school finance bill that would have provided as much as $1.8 billion in additional state education funding, money that could have gone toward teacher pay raises.

Abbott and Patrick also were the main drivers behind the creation of a new commission to conduct the umpteenth study of school funding. That commission concluded its work just before the holidays with a report that stopped short of recommending a specific amount of increased state education funding. And instead of recommending a much-needed across-the-board pay raise for all teachers, it encouraged districts to create “merit” pay plans – most likely to be based on student test scores — for raising salaries for a small group of teachers

The governor and the Legislature can do better than that, and they must do better than that before more teachers get squeezed out of the profession.


Who pays a bigger price for public service? Judges or teachers?


Texas teachers, it is time to cue in some sad music for Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who is complaining that he is underpaid. “Public service…should not be public servitude,” he told a legislative committee, according to an item in Quorum Report.

Pay for Texas Supreme Court members, after all, ranks only 29th among justices on the highest state courts around the country, the same national ranking as average teacher pay in Texas.

Before anyone gets carried away with that comparison, though, please know that Hecht’s annual salary is about $168,000, according to the National Center for State Courts. It may even be a little more because he is chief justice. That is more than three times the average teacher pay in Texas of $53,167.

Hecht is seeking raises for all state judges, but even state district court judges, the main trial judges in Texas, make about $149,000 a year. Servitude, indeed.

Hecht may feel underpaid compared to many lawyers in the private sector, but I doubt that the chief justice or any of his robed colleagues are spending their weekends tutoring students, waiting tables or taking the assortment of other extra jobs that about 40 percent of Texas teachers are taking during this school year to make ends meet for their families.

Sure, judges have very important responsibilities, but they are no less crucial than the work that teachers perform every day. Without the educational services that teachers provide, we, of course, wouldn’t have judges, lawyers, doctors, dentists, scientists, CEOs, etc. etc.—or not very good ones anyway.

Texas legislators need to pay teachers more and provide more classroom resources for their students before they start raising judges’ pay. One reason the legislative majority continues to under-pay teachers and under-fund public education is because the Texas Supreme Court, under Hecht, refused to strike down our lousy school finance system a couple of years ago and force the Legislature to improve it.

The justices admitted the funding system was awful, but they let the Legislature off the hook, and teachers and their students are still paying the consequences.

Still want to play some sad music for Chief Justice Hecht? I didn’t think so.




Abbott “discovers” public education; must be election time


Gov. Greg Abbott is continuing his preelection, “pro-public education” tour, making promises that most Texas educators and parents want to hear but aren’t likely to ever come to pass as long as Abbott remains governor.

He had a recent oped in The Dallas Morning News, which may have run in other newspapers as well, carrying the headline, “Gov. Abbott: Texas must boost school funding.” Yes, Texas certainly needs to do that, but it won’t happen unless we retire Abbott.

Let’s take a look at what the governor says in his oped and contrast that with his record:

What Abbott says now:  Citing the Texas Supreme Court’s latest ruling on the issue, he says the school funding system needs “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms.”

Abbott’s record:  As attorney general, he went to court to defend the current, inadequate funding system, which the Supreme Court upheld, despite its tough rhetoric. And as governor last year, he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick slammed the door on a bill approved by the House to begin reforming the finance system and increase education funding by $1.8 billion.

What Abbott says now:   “Just throwing more money at a flawed system isn’t going to fix anything.”

Abbott’s record:  State government has never “thrown” money at education, and Abbott hasn’t even sprinkled money on schools. The moldy,  “throwing more money” line is older than Abbott and has always been used as a political excuse to under-fund public schools.

What Abbott says now:  “We need to pay our best teachers more.” (More than $100,000, he says.)

Abbott’s record:  He hasn’t paid any teacher “more.” He floated out a fake “teacher pay raise” before a special legislative session last year but never proposed a way to pay for it, and he still hasn’t, despite all his talk about six-figure teacher salaries. And those “best teachers” he is talking about singling out now would be determined by STAAR test scores. Meanwhile, average teacher pay in Texas is $7,300 less than the national average.

What Abbott says now: “We need to…reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes.” To help do that, he proposes forcing local governments to lower tax rates as property values rise.

Abbott’s record:  School property taxes are rising mainly because of rising property values. But school boards would be able to reduce property tax rates now and lower the overall property tax load if the state increased its share of school funding. Instead, Abbott and his legislative allies have consistenly under-funded public education, and school boards can’t cut tax rates. So the local share of the Foundation School Program has continued to rise during Abbott’s term as governor and is projected to hit 62 percent this year, while the state’s share drops to 38 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

What Abbott says now:  We must “ensure (educators) retirements are sound and health care costs are contained.”

Abbott’s record:  Texas’ rate of contribution to TRS pensions is one of the lowest in the country. And Abbott and his allies have repeatedly ignored educators’ pleas to increase the state’s contribution to health care premiums for school employees.

“The state must increase its responsibility for education funding,” Abbott writes in his oped.

That has been obvious throughout the governor’s entire term, but he has never proposed a concrete way to do that and instead has always supported restrictions on state spending.

Has Abbott experienced a pre-election conversion?

No. But he is trying to get your vote, and if you believe him now, I suspect you also believe in fairy tales.

Vote Education First!




Dreaming of the governor’s six-figure teacher salary? Time to wake up.


The political fantasy season continues. Now Gov. Greg Abbott is getting some nice headlines and TV exposure by claiming to be working on a way to give some teachers six-figure salaries. If you are a teacher who believes that, then you probably will believe the kid who claims the dog ate his homework.

Unless you are a high school football coach with a very successful record, your chances as a teacher of getting a six-figure salary under this governor are nil. Your chances of getting even a decent, professional salary in the upper five figures are practically zero.

The only reason Abbott is even talking about educators and money in the same sentence is because, of course, this is an election year. For him, education is an issue with which to deceive teachers into thinking he actually gives more than a tweet about the real needs of educators and their students.

You may remember that Abbott also proposed a teacher “pay raise” before a special legislative session last summer but never came up with the money to pay for it. Speaker Joe Straus and the House came up with some money — $1.8 billion – that many districts could have used to raise teacher pay or reduce employee health insurance premiums. But Abbott and his accomplice, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, slammed the door on the extra funding in an unsuccessful effort to advance a voucher bill.

Now, here is Abbott again, claiming to be thinking about another teacher pay raise – a big one.

“We want to structure a compensation plan that will put the very best educators on a pathway to earning a six-figure salary,” he said, without suggesting a way to pay for it.

There also are other problems with the governor’s pronouncement. Rather than give all 350,000 or so Texas teachers a well-deserved pay raise, Abbott proposes to select a relative handful and force them to jump through hoops to get what they already have earned. The hoops most likely would be STAAR test scores, meaning more valuable classroom time would be wasted on teaching to the test without actually measuring real student achievement.

The governor apparently has been talking to Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who supported a similar plan in Dallas ISD when he was a board member there. Five years later, the plan is a huge failure. Less than 1 percent of Dallas ISD teachers have made the top pay tier, and there has been a huge teacher turnover. Almost half of the district’s teachers have five or fewer years of experience, and Dallas ISD is going to be unable to continue paying the higher salaries at the top if the state doesn’t increase public education funding.

Better education funding for all schools and students should be Abbott’s top educational priority, not meaningless pie-in-the-sky teasers to a handful of teachers. Annual per-student funding in Texas is $2,300 less than the national average, and teacher pay is $7,300 less than the national average. As many as half of the teachers who enter the classroom this fall will have left five years from now, and Abbott is doing nothing to address that problem.

“Being an educator is a calling; however, we want to advance that calling into a profession,” Abbott was quoted as saying.

Someone should tell the governor that being an educator already is a profession. The problem is that Abbott, Patrick and officeholders like them don’t believe that educators should be paid a professional salary. And Abbott’s alleged proposal doesn’t do that.

It is time for educators to elect new leaders, including Lupe Valdez for governor and Mike Collier for lieutenant governor. Vote Education First!