The following editorial by ATPE State President Ginger Franks appeared in today’s edition of the Austin American-Statesman:
Others Say: Texas teachers
Franks: Quality education means investing in educators
By Ginger Franks – Special Contributor
I started teaching when I was 22 years old. I taught English and speech therapy to special education students at Woden Independent School District in rural East Texas. My first school year teaching was the 1982-83 academic year, and I made $11,100. In two years, my salary was raised to $17,000 because the state increased the base pay for teachers. I was lucky to receive that raise.
This is my 32nd year teaching special education, and my average annual salary has remained at about $46,000 for the past 11 years. Despite receiving exemplary job evaluations, I have not had a significant raise since 2002. Like most teachers, I entered public education because I love children, and I have a burning desire to inspire students to be successful — not because I expected to get rich. Many educators share this philosophy, but we also want to feel valued in our profession.
I have never blamed the school districts entirely for low teacher salaries. Districts do the best they can with the funding provided by the state. Texas is simply not a top spender in public education. In February, a judge ruled the state’s school finance system unconstitutional as it fails to provide adequate and equitable funding. The state was recently ranked ninth in the top 10 states that spend the least on public education per pupil, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.
According to the Texas Education Agency, the average teacher salary for beginning teachers was $40, 911 for the 2011-12 school year and $58,031 for teachers with more than 20 years of experience. The average superintendent salary for 2012–2013 was $127,358, a 3.5 percent increase from 2011–2012, according to a report from the Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Association of School Administrators. Average superintendent salaries range from $86,782 in districts with fewer than 500 students to $281,722 in districts with more than 50,000 students.
The majority of a school district’s budget goes toward employee salaries, but you would never know it when it comes to teacher pay. In 2007, my annual salary was $46,630. Last year, I received a salary increase of $340—my first raise in five years. Most teachers do not see their salary increase significantly, even after reaching 20 years of experience.
Many rural school districts across the state do not allocate the funds to pay teachers more. Some are only able to pay $500 to $1,000 a year above the state minimum, if anything. And when teachers factor in rising health insurance premiums, they really don’t see a difference in their paychecks. Certainly, many Texas professionals and their families are also feeling the effects of these same economic issues, but I am convinced that in order to remain nationally and globally competitive, our future generations will need a world-class education. To retain world-class educators, we need to assess what a professional can earn in teaching versus other professions.
Teacher salary affects teacher quality. The reason Texas has difficulties in retaining new, younger public education teachers is because it is quite difficult to support oneself and a family on a teacher’s salary. The work demands and stress of the job, along with the low pay, make it harder for them to justify their love of teaching children. Oftentimes, a teacher with two to three years of experience will leave for a job that offers more pay, less stress and better work hours. Despite what some might think, teachers who are off work during the summer are not paid for that time. Some teachers even get part-time jobs to supplement the income lost during this time.
When teachers take on the incredible responsibility of educating our future leaders, it’s not an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week gig. It’s a commitment from the heart. Teachers want their students to grow, to feel validated, to love learning, so they spend their nights and weekends crafting lesson plans, grading papers and volunteering their time to extracurricular activities. Teachers believe all children deserve a happy, safe, supportive learning environment, so they spend their own money on classroom decorations, project supplies, and meals — even toothbrushes — for students in need. Teaching is an honorable profession, but society does not always treat it as such. Teachers need to know they are supported by the community, parents, business leaders and lawmakers. If we truly want quality teachers in the classroom, we have to give them quality pay because teachers deserve it.
Franks, a 31-year education veteran, is a special education teacher and president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.