School safety and bullying are front of mind for parents across the state of Texas, along with lingering concerns about the COVID-19 virus, according to an education survey released this week by the Charles Butt Foundation. 

But the 2023 Texas Education Poll given annually to 1,000 respondents , including public school parents — also found that Texans are overall more satisfied with their children’s education than the national average, and are supportive of increasing teacher salaries. 

The report is published by the foundation with polling conducted by New York-based Langer Research Associates, according to a release. 

“Our hope is that our Texas Education Poll data will be used by state leaders, policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to listen to the perspectives of Texans and public school parents, take that information, and act on behalf of our 5.5 million Texas students and their families,” Audrey Boklage, vice president of learning and impact at the Charles Butt Foundation, said in a statement.

With a state budget surplus of more than $33 billion, advocacy groups and school leaders are hoping for increased state investments in security, teachers and schools overall. 

School safety

For the first time since the survey was given four years ago, school safety, including the risk of gun violence, was listed as the number one issue for parents, according to Shari Albright, president of the Charles Butt Foundation. 

In the poll, 53% of Texans perceive at least a moderate risk that public school students in their communities might experience a school shooting, while 41% of parents see at least a moderate risk of such a shooting affecting their own child. 

“It is clear Texans remain concerned about school safety and the risk of gun violence in schools after the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde last May,” Albright said. “When we look just at Texas parents, 82% say their child has a foundational sense of belonging at school, yet more than half worry about local school shootings, and two-thirds think their child is at risk of bullying or discrimination at school.”

Survey results were not monolithic, however.  

Hispanic Texans, for example, were especially inclined to call mass shootings a risk, according to survey results; with 67% saying so compared with 43% of white Texans and 56% of Black Texans. 

There are also gaps in perceived risk to safety of schools between income levels. In households earning less than $50,000 annually, 64% of Texans believe there is a risk to the public school students in their community, compared with 42% of those earning $100,000 or more, according to the survey. Among public school parents, 51% in lower-income households say there is a risk to their child, versus 28% of those earning $100,000 or more, the survey found.

State school safety audit

The results were released the same week as the findings of a state-mandated safety audit, in which auditors were tasked with attempting to gain access to schools to test their hardware and procedures. 

Of the 2,864 schools audited, 95.3% did not allow intruders to gain access, while only 71.6% of schools passed without needing corrective action.

Nearly half of the corrective actions at the remaining schools are “in the process of being verified,” according to the audit report released Wednesday. 

At the campuses where audit intruders did gain access, they did so in a matter of minutes, according to a report on the findings.

Door security and access control have been key focuses in efforts to enhance school security, after a house report pointed to lax policies and practices at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde leading up to the deadly school shooting in May.

The audit is one of several directives put forth by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after the massacre in Uvalde.  

In addition to gun violence, parents have concerns over bullying, including cyberbullying.

Two-thirds of public school parents think there is at least a moderate risk their child might experience some form of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination while at school, the survey said.

Another lingering concern, years into a global pandemic, is the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The survey found 58% of Texans think there is at least a moderate risk that public school students in their community might experience infection, including 24% who see it as a large risk. That number was greater among Hispanic and Black respondents.

Teacher pay

Despite the concerns, the survey concludes that Texans have a positive view of their children’s education overall.

According to the survey, 89% of public school parents say they are satisfied with the quality of education their child is receiving, surpassing a comparable national figure of 80% from an August 2022 poll.

Along with that, parents think teachers should be paid more. 

Increased state funding to increase teacher salaries, which rank in the bottom half of the country, was supported by 89% of survey respondents. 

The survey cites that the approval spans several demographics including age, geographical location and political party.

“One thing is clear: Texans know that teachers are foundational to strong schools,” Boklage said. “They not only value their contributions to the state’s future; they want to see increased funding to ensure they are compensated fairly.”

Increased compensation is important for many reasons, advocates and administrators say, including teacher retention.  

More than 760 teachers left San Antonio Independent School District last year, up from 572 the year before Superintendent Jaime Aquino said at a Rotary club event this week.

In addition to lobbying for greater funding, Aquino said the district is looking at adding more professional development and training time for teachers and streamlined training for required courses like annual cybersecurity training. 

Meanwhile, the current environment in education has parents doubting whether teaching is a profession their children should pursue.

In the survey, 39% of Texans now say they would like to have their child take up teaching in the public schools, down 10 points in one year.

Three-quarters of Texans think public school teachers are undervalued or disrespected by society, with 66% of respondents saying they are overworked; and 75% or more thinking average salaries of longer-tenured teachers are too low.