Lawmakers in Texas concluded the regular legislative session without allocating funds for employee raises in public schools. Consequently, school districts are resorting to using their savings accounts to provide modest raises for their staff members.
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 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 $32 billion 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 continue with special legislative sessions aimed at passing property tax cuts. The inclusion of a teacher bonus proposal in the Senate’s property tax bill indicates a potential avenue for providing financial relief.
Gov. Abbott’s focus on vouchers and recent alignment with House Speaker Dade Phelan on property tax reduction hints at a possible alliance on education matters. Discussions within a committee formed by Phelan to identify educational opportunities and increase financial support for schools may offer a platform for compromises.