Do Texas Lawmakers Truly Value Teachers?
When right wing extremist and attention loving tweeter Michael Quinn Sullivan posted that “’public education’ is a babysitting service offered at the convenience of the government employees” and how ‘public education in Texas is about employing otherwise unemployable adults, not educating kids,’” he was met with immediate backlash. Leaders and education advocacy groups from across the Lone Star State admonished the post. And they should have.
But while state lawmakers vocalized support for public education, their actions, by and large, do not match it. In other words, they are not walking the talk. For instance, the cuts to public education funding from the 2011 special session have not been restored, Texas ranks among the lowest tenth in the country in per student funding, teacher pay is mediocre at best, the student — to — teacher ratio for grades five through twelve is nonexistent, and instead of raising the base pay in a cost of living adjustment, retired teachers received another “thirteenth check,” which is equivalent to placing a bandage on a broken neck.
Let us also understand Texas is in the midst of a teacher shortage. Teachers are leaving the profession due to “disrespect, burn out, and poor pay,” among other reasons. Texas Monthly interviewed several teachers for a piece it ran last month where those sentiments were echoed.
It appears as though teacher morale is at an all time low. So low the Texas Tribune reported roughly 500 teachers left the profession in the middle of the school year over the last six months. If a teacher commits such an act, one loses his/her teacher’s license, according to state law. In this current environment, teachers would rather lose their license than continue their career. The situation, as presented, has the profession in near dire straits.
Since this is Texas and polling suggests the people believe their public schools give good, quality education, why is this catastrophe happening to our public servants? Well, quite frankly, the lawmakers allowed it to happen because this has not been a glaring matter for them. Issues such as abortion, marriage, gender identity, library books, public bathrooms, guns, “saving” Chick-Fil-A, and saying “Merry Christmas,” have transformed into the focal points for several lawmakers. These lawmakers, however, like to brag how they can “walk and chew gum at the same time;” meaning they can continue the culture war while paying attention to necessary issues. This self-professed balance has yet to be seen.
Moreover, the added stress from Texas lawmakers has been no aid. Culture warriors like State Reps. Matt Krause and Jared Patterson have thrown teachers and, oddly enough, librarians into the growing war. Instead of improving schools and the professionals who work to mold the future, these crusaders, and those who signed their names in agreeance, continue to spend their time in the interim session attacking education professionals with phantom issues.
As usual, there are skeptics of the teacher shortage situation. Commentators and outlets argue the shortage is exaggerated, for one, and for two, overplayed in the media. They point to a data sheet from the Texas Education Agency on teacher attrition stating how low it is. To quote the conservative news site The Texan, the “share of teachers that left the workforce was the lowest it has been in 10 years.” Because of that Perry Mason-esque factoid and its amplification in conservative circles, cynics have a difficult time understanding the reality of the situation. While it is a definitive trait in our American nature to be critical of presented information, it is, however, pure folly to misinterpret self-evident facts.
So what can be done to fix this issue? While Gov. Abbott has not exactly been helpful to replenish the shortage, his recent action of forming a task force is a step in the right direction but it cannot be trusted. Its result cannot be forecasted as this action may be nothing more than a political stunt. The solution truly rests in two places. One is the vote and the other is the legislature.
As I once wrote, teachers are the sleeping giant in Texas politics. With that in mind, one way to end the teacher shortage is for them to awaken from their torpor, register to vote, and vote. Not just vote for the sake of voting, but to vote for pro-public education candidates. Advocacy groups like Texans for Public Education and Pastors for Texas Children are gearing up for a big teacher get out the vote effort in the upcoming May Primary-runoffs and the November General Election. The result of such effort should produce a productive legislative session for teachers, public education, and higher education. If the results of the November election go the other direction, the teachers, professors, and education on all levels will not be on the table, but rather on the menu.