Rising rents are squeezing Texas teachers

For teachers in Texas, summer break isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. Many educators are forced to take on second jobs to make ends meet. A recent study by Zillow shows how many teachers are struggling to pay rent. 

In four of Texas’ major metropolitan areas, new teachers spend over 30 percent of their income on housing, rendering them “cost burdened,” according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.      

Using the Zillow Rent Index, the study examined U.S. Census Bureau income data for full-time pre-K through high school teachers to determine typical local rent rates. Below is the percentage of an individual teacher’s starting salary that is allocated to rent in four of Texas’ largest cities: 

The study’s findings show new teachers in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio spend an average of 45 percent of their salaries on rent. A starting teacher in Austin would have to spend more than half of their salary on rent. 

These findings highlight the inability of Texas teachers to make ends meet on an insufficient salary as Texas becomes increasingly unaffordable. 

In Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State Address in February, he identified increasing teacher pay as one of five “emergency items.” But results from the legislative session were underwhelming. 

This past Spring, teachers rallied at the state Capitol to advocate for more funding for public education and called on the Texas Legislature to provide overdue pay raises for teachers across Texas. While the state did pass school finance legislation in late May, which included teacher pay raises, estimates showed teachers might not receive as much money as they expected.

Organizations like the Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT) are standing up to advocate the importance of paying educators a fair wage. 

“More must be done in the next legislative session to continue increasing teacher pay [in Texas] above the national average,” said Ray McMurrey, Texas AFT Secretary-Treasurer. “Teachers work very long days and nights, it’s shameful that they can’t afford to live in the communities where they teach, forced to drive long distances-removed from the kids that need them most.”

Texas lawmakers must do better. Prioritizing education means investing in teachers and in our children to build a stronger future for Texas. 

HD-28 candidate Anna Allred reports $158,000 fundraising haul

The race to replace John Zerwas just got more interesting. Anna Allred, a candidate in the HD-28 special election, released her fundraising totals early. 

Allred — an anesthesiologist and Zerwas’ business partner — announced that she raised $158,570 from 140 contributors and has $86,279 cash on hand. 

While it’s doubtful that Allred has the biggest bank account in the race — one of her opponents, Gary Gates, is a multimillionaire — her fundraising statements show that she’s emerged as a candidate with a deep-pocketed donor base. 

Gates has largely self-financed this campaign, along with his six previous failed campaigns. 

Along with the impressive fundraising figures, political insiders noticed that the release was issued with the name of Houston political consultant Allen Blakemoore as the contact name. 

Blakemoore is a long-time political operative with ties to Republican power players in Austin and Washington. He’s run campaigns for Dan Patrick, Phil Gramm, and won 347 campaigns over the last 20 years.

Former Republican precinct chair files in HD-138 election

candidates HD-138 election

Lacey Hull — a Houston homemaker and former Republican precinct chair — has established a campaign committee for a potential run for Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s (R-Houston) seat.

Hull is fairly well-known in conservative circles. She campaigned for state Reps. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) and Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park). 

She also block-walked for Erin Swanson, who lost a 2018 race for Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2. 

Although Campaign finance records show that Hull has given small contributions to a number of right-wing candidates since 2015, it was her 2017 testimony on House Bill 2249 that made a conservative darling. 

H.B. 2249 was a bill that would have disclosed vaccine exemption rates at individual school campuses. Hull, whose child is unable to receive vaccines for medical reasons, testified against the bill. 

Hull claimed that disclosing vaccination exemption rates would violate medical privacy rights. However, analysis of the bill showed that the state would only have collected de-identified, aggregated data. 

The bill would have required the state to collect de-identified immunization exemption information for each school district as a whole and for each campus within each district. 

Five things we learned from the School Finance Panel

Carroll ISD

This year’s TribFest, the Texas Tribune’s yearly festival in Austin, featured plenty of political content for wonks to parse. For those that couldn’t attend but want to understand more about the state’s largest bill on education, a highlight of the most recent legislative session, we’ve broken down the five things you need to know from the school finance panel. 

The effort, largely led by Rep. Dan Huberty, has received a lot of praise, but there are some underlying questions and concerns from critiques on the sustainability of the money, and how to implement the policies across types of school.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R- Houston), Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), Representative Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) sat on the panel moderated by Aliyya Swaby of Texas Tribune. 

1. Teacher pay is still an issue.

The question most teachers wanted to know was: “What do you say to teachers who expected more [of a raise from the bill]?” Sen. Taylor and Rep. Huberty were quick to respond. Taylor commented on the legislature’s compromise skills, and Huberty said, “I’ve not had one teacher not say thank you.” 

2. One size fits all…doesn’t exactly fit all.

The question of full-day pre-K was another hot topic. Implementation of such programs is different across the state since some districts have approved the extension and therefore have the facilities and educators in place. Other districts are having a difficult time facilitating the change. With the quick turnaround, some districts declined the measure, or put it on hold in order to figure out how they will expand their program. 

3. Interim action is planned. 

Although there were changes being made, there is energy for the interim as well. Huberty, the chair of the house committee on public education, spoke about the progress that they will have and the research they will be doing moving forward. Echoed by Gonzelez who spoke about advisory committees and continuing the evolving work. 

4. School finance reform needs to be supported by plain school reform.

Huberty acknowledged that school districts need more counselors with the latitude to fulfill their obligations to the students. While he noted they couldn’t get that done in HB3, this is a focal point for him moving forward. Taylor spoke on the changes needed and noted that the population of low-income Texans is growing, which means Texas will need even more of a focus on education. He went as far as to say that poverty is only fixed with a good education. Gonzalez applauded the effort made by the legislature and spoke about the goals moving forward. 

5. Education alignment does not mean everyone is in agreement.

Members have gotten negative feedback regarding some aspects of HB3. Certain organizations don’t feel enough was accomplished, and some education groups are calling for more action.

Action counts when it comes to education, and now all eyes are on the team of policy minds that lit the fire. 

Tarrant County closes college campus voting location

By ALEX WUKMAN

One question Tarrant County Commissioners and the areas’ college chancellors are asking themselves this week is, “What’s the out-of-pocket for democracy?”

This latest round of soul searching comes after the county eliminated the majority of its college campus early voting locations weeks before this year’s state Constitutional Amendment election.

The county hasn’t announced any plans to reinstate the shuttered polling stations before the 2020 election. 

The reduction in the number of early voting locations means that students at schools like TCU and UT-Arlington will have to go elsewhere to vote, which could affect voter turnout. 

In previous elections, county personnel would set up mobile early voting locations at campuses for three or four days — these temporary polling places proved to be rather popular.

During the 2018 election, college campuses like TCU and UT-Arlington accounted for more than 11,000 votes cast in Tarrant County. County commissioners claim that they closed the campus polling locations in order to comply with a new state law

House Bill 1888, which went into effect Sept. 1, requires that all early voting locations be open for the entire 12-day early voting period. 

Tarrant County’s elections administrator Heider Garcia has said that his office doesn’t have the funds to staff locations at TCU, the University of North Texas medical school and four of the five Tarrant County College campuses.

Though the county offers 40 other early voting locations within its borders, reducing the number of early voting locations at the campuses above all but guarantees that college students will have a more difficult time voting in this year’s elections. 

Along with the Constitutional Amendments, Tarrant County residents are being asked to vote in 16 elections municipal elections, including passing judgment on eight education bonds. 

One of the bonds on the ballot is an $825 million package put forward by Tarrant County College. 

In order to ensure that TCC students have a say in the future of their school, the college is paying $52,500 for 12 days of voting at its five main campuses. And while TCC’s decision to pick up the tab for democracy is admirable, the school shouldn’t be on the hook for the funds—the idea that a county with a $680 million annual budget can’t find $63,000 to pay for early voting sites is a bit ridiculous. 

Tarrant County spends $360,000 per year on its mailroom, but elections administrator Garcia claims he can’t afford to pay for early voting locations on college campuses. 

Additionally, the fact that Garcia should have to look for money is itself an indictment of the County’s leadership. This law wasn’t passed in the middle of night and instituted the next day.    

Tarrant County commissioners have known since Gov. Greg Abbott signed H.B. 1888 in June that early voting locations would be affected. The commissioners have also had plenty of time to find a way to fund these locations. 

Like most governmental agencies in Texas, Tarrant County’s fiscal year began on Sept. 1. For two months, the commissioners were appropriating funds and didn’t set anything aside for these polling locations.

Yes, H.B. 1888 makes it a little more expensive to keep early voting locations open, but it’s disingenuous for Garcia to claim that these locations were closed solely because of a state law. 

The state law requires the county to pay to keep those polling locations open for 12 days, and Tarrant County’s decision to put $589,348 into parking lot maintenance instead of keeping those polling locations open is reprehensible.