My son’s 4th grade dual language class in San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District is currently sitting at 26 students, a byproduct of an overburdened and under-resourced educational system that has recently seen a mass exodus of educators.
While the current shortage was no doubt exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and districts across this state have taken the pressures of an underfunded educational system and placed them squarely upon the shoulders of underpaid educators and administrators.
In my son’s classroom alone, his teacher is expected to provide the same amount of attention and care to 26 different children — all with varying needs. Essential components of a teacher’s lesson plans, like meaningful time with small groups, cannot be efficiently managed or executed and sadly children begin to fall behind. This is especially true at a Title I campus like my son’s where almost 75% of the population is economically disadvantaged and over 85% are children of color.
Logistical challenges of an oversized class also present themselves in more tangible ways, like a lack of supplies. In my son’s music class — fundamental to his growth — there were not enough musical instruments to be distributed for each student, so some children were left out of the lesson. Ultimately, the pain a student feels from not receiving equitable attention in the classroom will unfairly be placed on their extremely overwhelmed teacher.
As both the parent of a student and the husband of a veteran elementary school teacher, I understand the frustration overcrowded classrooms cause for all parties involved. And as someone who has held various leadership roles in both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds, I empathize with the struggles the NISD administration faces with teacher shortages.
These challenges and more will continue to present themselves until districts can figure out a way to, once again, hire more teachers and achieve more manageable class sizes. And that means properly recognizing and retaining quality educators.
In a recent KSAT article regarding this year’s teacher shortages, there wasn’t a single mention of pay. The superintendent of human resources from NISD directly referenced dropping enrollment numbers in teacher prep programs at colleges and universities, as well as a stigma regarding school safety as the reasons for the shortage. But to me and many others, it’s much simpler: teachers need a significant raise, and they need it now.
Currently in NISD, a newly hired teacher with 14 years of experience makes only $5,000 more than a brand-new hire. This meager difference tells the veteran educator they are not truly valued while also communicating to prospective teachers that they can expect a year-over-year salary increase of half a percent. That is not reasonable or sustainable in any profession or industry; it is shameful.
According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for Bexar County, if either of these teachers has even one child of their own, neither person is earning a living wage. And with the current shortage, they are often covering the duties of two teachers while also being underpaid. This needs to be remedied.
When I voiced my concerns to the NISD superintendent’s office about the current teacher shortage and its direct link to stagnant teacher wages, I was told that all members of district leadership from the Board of Trustees on down were supportive of raising teacher salaries. Yet a recent study released by Texas AFT and Every Texan reported that, on average, Texas teachers are making 4% less than they were in 2010 when adjusted for inflation.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of NISD leadership desiring higher wages for their teachers, I just don’t see any substantive change being made on the ground. And while NISD does in fact have the discretion to provide for teacher raises within their own budget, I realize many of the budgetary constraints that make this difficult are tied to how they receive funding from the state.
Governor Greg Abbott and the TEA like to tout House Bill 3, passed in 2019, as the school finance reform measure that will finally provide more money for Texas classrooms while also cutting local property taxes. Unfortunately, a study completed by the Center for Public Policy Priorities pointed out that the shift from local property taxes to state aid would cost the state more money without actually sending additional funding into classrooms. Further, with the way HB 3 is written, when property values increase, school districts are actually required to decrease their local tax rates. Ultimately, this leads to a reduction in the collection of educational tax dollars, and this is already being severely felt within local school districts.
With the recent passing of their 2022-23 budget, and an almost doubling of their projected general fund deficit from the prior school year, NISD officials identified state-mandated limits on property tax rates as creating a significant revenue issue. If school districts like NISD are facing greater budgetary shortfalls from HB 3, how are they supposed to provide educators with the professional and financial relief they so well deserve? The answer is they can’t because the Office of the Governor and the Texas legislature have overlooked and undervalued education for far too long. The unfortunate result is a surge in educators leaving the profession.
And why should they stay? Currently, Texas teachers earn $7,000 below the national average while also spending over $800 of their own money annually on classroom supplies that will never be reimbursed by the state. Additionally, their cost of health insurance premiums has more than doubled over the past decade while the state has maintained the same meager contribution to teacher health care plans of just $75 a month since 2002. Combined with soaring inflation, any pay bump teachers may have realized from HB 3 was quickly eroded by rapidly rising costs associated with other living and working expenses they were forced to face alone.
If we want to have any chance at turning the current tide of massive teacher shortages and the many issues these shortages are causing our children at the classroom level, we must first hold those forces accountable that have brought us to this moment of reckoning over the past two decades. Long-time state leaders like Governor Greg Abbott, comfortable with underpaying overworked teachers in overcrowded classrooms so long as property taxes remain low, must know that enough is enough.
The current system is broken. It’s time for a change. It’s time to give San Antonio school districts the resources they need to tackle the problems plaguing their schools. Voicing our concerns at the district level is no longer sufficient for those of us who advocate for our teachers and our children; our voices must be heard at the ballot box.
Understanding who is running and their stances on public education is critical to helping support teachers and students with our votes. The governor’s race and other top ticket races are certainly important, but there are many down-ballot elections to pay close attention to as well. State representatives pass policies that influence our districts, administrators, and teachers. Representatives from the State Board of Education set standards and curricula for our children’s classrooms. And while I have specifically been addressing issues within NISD, other local school districts including East Central, Judson, Somerset, and South San all have vital elections and measures on the ballot.
If you are passionate about actively participating in the systemic change we need for our public schools, I encourage you to take some time to familiarize yourself with who and what is on your ballot through the San Antonio Report’s 2022 Voter Guide and SA2020’s guide available in English and Spanish.
So vote wisely, and remember, the time for teacher raises is now.