H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt has invested $50 million to launch “Raising Texas Teachers,” a scholarship and technical support program for teachers who commit to working in a “high needs” public school in Texas.

The announcement was made Monday morning on the campus of Trinity University, one of two San Antonio institutions among the 10 Texas universities participating in the initiative. Our Lady of the Lake University also was chosen to participate. Select students will receive $8,000 in annual funding for up to four years at these institutions through the Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers.

The program will grow over the next four years, beginning with 150 students and increasing to 500 by 2021. Participating institutions will see between $200,000 and $1 million annually from scholarships and technical support funding.

Austin-based Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation will oversee the program over a 10-year period.

To be selected as a partner institution, universities across the state applied to Raise Your Hand Texas.

Students of the Trinity University Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) on their first day of class.
Students of the Trinity University Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) convene on their first day of class. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Universities wishing to participate in the program went through an in-depth application and interview process. They were required to demonstrate deep clinical experience, a competency-based approach to training, and partnerships and placement in high needs public schools. Trinity’s education department is headed by Shari Albright, who has become a vocal advocate for the teaching profession. Albright has spearheaded many partnerships with San Antonio schools in North East and San Antonio ISDs. This year OLLU will begin a lab school partnership with Rodriguez Elementary School in SAISD, said OLLU Education Department Chair Alycia Maurer.

The clinical year, which is the final year of OLLU’s undergraduate program and Trinity’s five-year Master of Arts in Teacher program, is expensive for students, Maurer and Albright said. At OLLU, the final year is part-time, and students don’t qualify for the same financial aid they might have as full-time students. At Trinity, the important clinical year is the fifth year, and many financial aid programs only extend four years.

The average OLLU candidate accrues up to $60,000 in debt, Maurer said. Many go back into Title I schools through the TEACH Grant, a federal grant that forgives debt for teachers going into high needs schools. 

Our Lady of the Lake University Education Department Chair Alycia Maurer.
Our Lady of the Lake University Education Department Chair Alycia Maurer. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“Many of our students are committed to going back into the communities they came from,” Maurer said. 

One of those students is Sylvia Villa, 56, a widow and mother of four. Her son encouraged her to go back to school. 

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Villa said. The financial burden was significant, and when Maurer told her about the scholarship and encouraged her to apply, Villa began to cry. “It will be such a huge help,” she said. 

Placing committed, well-trained, highly qualified teachers into public schools is a passion for Albright. The Trinity program maintains admission standards higher than the state average and aims to elevate the teaching profession through ever-increasing rigor, innovation, and professionalism. 

Trinity Department of Education Chair Shari Albright.
Trinity Department of Education Chair Shari Albright. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“We are thrilled to be part of a program that holds up teaching and the nobility of that profession. Nobody does that more than Charles Butt,” Albright said.

Butt is one of the biggest individual philanthropists supporting public schools in Texas. Earlier this year, he donated $100 million to establish the Holdsworth Center in Austin, a public education leadership institute named after his mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt (1903-1993), a prominent Texas philanthropist and wife of H-E-B Grocery Company founder Howard Edward Butt Sr.

H-E-B also dedicates millions of dollars each year to multiple public education initiatives, including its annual Excellence in Education Awards. Butt and H-E-B combined to make the $3.6 million lead gift last year to establish the CAST Tech High School, an in-district charter school located on the former Fox Tech campus in the San Antonio Independent School District.

The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation is a nonprofit arm of Raise Your Hand Texas, a public school advocacy group. The foundation funds pilot programs aimed at improving the education system, and then supports successful programs as they grow.

Throughout participants’ education and beyond, Raise Your Hand Texas will connect them to a network of both aspiring and experienced teachers, and provide professional development opportunities.

The other eight universities participating in the program are the University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, University of North Texas, Texas A&M University’s Special Education Program, Texas Tech University, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Student Teacher Preparation: University Partnership.

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.