Despite a massive $30 billion-plus budget surplus, public school districts in Texas are facing uncertainty as a proposed funding boost remains stuck in the Legislature. Consequently, school districts are resorting to using their savings accounts to provide modest raises for their staff members.
The lack of funding has also dashed hopes for investments in new buses and band instruments, leaving districts with no choice but to turn to federal emergency dollars and resort to laying off administrators. These measures are being taken in an effort to address the critical workforce shortage and prioritize salary increases for teachers.
The setback arose after state lawmakers declined to pass a teacher pay raise bill or a comprehensive school funding plan, despite strong public support.
Gov. Greg Abbott intends to reconvene the Legislature in the fall to revisit the issue. However, with the school year approaching and a summer deadline for enacting budgets, many districts are feeling the pressure and can’t afford to wait.
Despite the risks of adopting a deficit budget, districts like Temple ISD are prioritizing their staff’s well-being. Temple ISD intends to implement a 3% raise for teachers and staff, leading to a projected deficit of $2.2 million even after making spending cuts.
However, “passing a deficit budget is not sustainable,” Bobby Ott, superintendent of the Temple ISD, told The Texas Tribune. “Board policy stipulates that school districts keep a certain amount of fund balance or savings account.”
The San Antonio Independent School District, grappling with a budget shortfall, has decided to lay off central office staff to fund its largest teacher raise in 25 years. Since competition to hire staff is so fierce, especially for special education and bilingual teachers, the district feels it has no choice, San Antonio ISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino told San Antonio Express-News.
“I don’t foresee that our state is going to do right for our kids,” Aquino said. “So we have to take care of our kids and our staff, and I have to find a way of making teaching much more manageable.”
The current scenario reflects the challenges faced by educators in Texas. Teacher salaries in Texas trail the national average by about $6,000, according to the most recent figures from the National Education Association labor union. In addition, teacher wages have essentially stagnated over the past decade when adjusted for inflation, according to a report released last April by the Texas American Federation of Teachers Union and the left-leaning think tank Every Texan.
Texas faces a teacher exodus crisis not only due to low pay, but other factors, such as pandemic-related concerns, overtime work, and being embroiled in cultural disputes have driven more teachers to leave the profession.
Meanwhile, Texas legislators failed to pass any public school education funding bills, despite having a substantial budget surplus. The only school funding bill with potential, House Bill 100, which would have provided modest raises and an increase in the basic allotment, died in the House due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s commitment to school vouchers.
As the voucher titanic sunk, so did school funding, leaving school districts without a lifeline, and many are struggling to secure funds to keep their ships afloat.
Several school districts across Texas, including Fort Worth ISD, Frisco ISD, Austin ISD, San Antonio ISD, and Smithville ISD, have approved deficit budgets or made financial adjustments to provide raises for their employees. Even property-wealthy districts are considering school closures and reductions in extracurricular activities to manage expenses.
The raise “is important because that may be the most we can comfortably do right now, but it shows our teachers we’re trying to fight for them,” Josh Magden, a Smithville ISD board member, told The Texas Tribune.
However, there is a glimmer of hope as lawmakers plan to have a special legislative session for education in October.