This is the eleventh post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.
At issue: Teacher compensation plays an important role in efforts to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, as discussed in a recent editorial by ATPE State President Ginger Franks. Nationwide, the average teacher salary exceeds $56,000, while Texas teachers are paid an average of $48,000. If Texas ever expects to become a global education leader, our teacher salaries must be at least equal to and preferably greater than the national average, which means that we still have a long way to go. Keeping salaries competitive with other professions and private industry is also critical to maintaining an adequate supply of teachers, especially in hard-to-staff subject areas like science and math. Studies have shown that funding additional stipends to entice high-performing college students and professionals to teach those subjects is a successful strategy to improve teacher quality. Differentiated pay for educators who undertake advanced training or other professional duties outside their normal instructional activities, such as mentoring a new teacher, can also help with teacher retention.
The state minimum salary schedule for teachers needs to be protected: While differentiated pay and targeted bonuses can and should be used strategically, it is essential that we maintain an adequate base pay structure for all teachers. The state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS), which fosters teacher retention by ensuring gradual pay increases over a 20-year span, has been under attack in recent legislative sessions. Critics of the MSS, including well-funded reform groups like Texans for Education Reform, Texans Deserve Great Schools and Educate Texas, falsely claim that its experience-based formula prevents school districts from adopting their own pay scales and strategic compensation plans that reward the best teachers. We disagree, and we hear frequently from educators who believe that the MSS provides an incentive to stay in the classroom and who would prefer it to be expanded rather than eliminated.
We must elect pro-public education candidates who understand the important function of the minimum salary schedule: Legislators who’ve attempted to repeal the salary schedule dismiss educators’ concerns as “institutional resistance to change” and ignore the fact that the MSS was designed to be merely a floor for teachers’ salaries across their first 20 years of teaching. The MSS was adopted with the intent that districts would pay teachers above the state minimums according to their own locally developed criteria. Most districts do pay above the MSS, with the excess payments often structured as performance-based increases. If the Legislature would comply with its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education, more districts would probably be able to offer strategic payments above the state minimums. Moreover, in the decades that the school finance system has been in and out of litigation, pay increases for teachers have been few and isolated, but the MSS is what has made it possible to direct funds to the classroom where they are most needed. The MSS also helps stabilize the Teacher Retirement Statement (TRS), which is tied directly to the existing salary schedule.
Your future earnings as an educator depend on the participation of the education profession in this primary election: Too many of our legislators have bought into reformer rhetoric about teacher compensation. Educators cannot afford to remain a silent majority on this issue. View your legislators’ profiles on Teach the Vote to find out how they voted in 2013 on issues such as merit pay (see “Senate Vote #3”) or requiring a state survey of teacher salaries (see “House Vote #4”). Although the March 4 primary elections are only two days away, there is still time for you to talk to your friends and family about what’s at stake in this election. Don’t forget that in 21 legislative races, the November general election will be irrelevant, and the winner will be decided Tuesday. The legislature won’t stand up for better teacher pay unless the members of the education profession send a message now. This Tuesday, vote your profession.