Texas legislators’ push to increase teacher salaries could help Maria Ortiz, a Spanish teacher at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, ease the burden of putting two of her children through college next year. 

But how much of a pay boost, how it should be funded and adjusting other benefits are among the details the Legislature has not yet hashed out as the idea gains bipartisan support, including the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Two leading Republicans, citing the state’s unprecedented $33 billion budget surplus, expressed optimism about the prospect of boosting salaries and other benefits for teachers.

“I think there will definitely be an effort to increase teacher pay,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, who will be at the center of discussions over teacher salaries as the chamber’s chief budget architect. “And the question is precisely how do you do that. And that’s what the debate is going to be about in the coming weeks.”

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker poses for a selfie with state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth. Goldman was the mayor’s guide during her trip to the Capitol. (David Montgomery | Fort Worth Report)

Republican leader Craig Goldman of Fort Worth, who chairs the 86-member House Republican Caucus that encompasses the majority in the 150-member House, also strongly endorsed the need for a teachers’ pay raise, though he and Bonnen said it’s too early to cite specific amounts. 

“I’m all for giving teachers a pay raise,’’ Goldman said. “I mean, they’re educating the future of Texas and I’m all for it.”

As lawmakers deliberate, Ortiz is looking at tuition, cost of living and books — and they add up, she said. With two other school-aged children at home, even the money from her husband’s job as an engineer, can’t fully alleviate the financial pressure for the family of six. 

“For teachers, the only way you can get a significant pay increase is if you get a master’s or doctorate or switch to counseling or administration,” said Ortiz, who has been teaching for 17 years. “I love being in the classroom and want to stay there, but, at times, I’ve considered another career in order to provide for my family.”

Is a $15,000 raise realistic?

Many teachers are rallying behind an annual $15,000 salary increase proposed by Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin. In a statement, Talarico said his House Bill 1548 proposes using part of the state’s almost $33 billion surplus to cover the initial cost of the salary bump. 

“We can give every Texas teacher a $15,000 raise and still have half of the surplus left over. Hoarding this surplus while educators and children are suffering is immoral,” Talarico said.

However, Talarico’s legislation is likely a nonstarter for the Legislature, said Chris Sloan, an associate dean at Tarleton State University’s College of Education. 

Sloan supports giving teachers a pay boost. Lawmakers likely won’t go for Talarico’s proposal because it spends half of the surplus and possibly shifts shortages to other school staff, he said.

“If you bump teacher pay up $15,000, everybody else (who works in schools) has to get a pay raise, too, which is why I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Sloan said.

Bonnen, without specifically discussing Democrats’ proposed $15,000 pay raise, said any pay hike has “to be something that’s sustainable” that will be adequate enough to compensate teachers in the future when lawmakers may not have the robust kind of funding that they have within their grasp during the 88th Legislative Session.

“Something like a teacher pay raise is intended to be permanent, that’s intended to last,” he said.  “So you’ve got to plan not only for the next few years, but you’ve got to plan for the long term so that you can actually continue that obligation.”

Other lawmakers have proposed increasing how much money the state provides to school districts and charters. Texas funds schools on a per student basis; this policy is called the basic allotment. Schools receive $6,160 for each student.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott takes the stage on March 15 at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Leaders in Government program at The Worthington Renaissance, 200 Main St. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The governor’s teacher vacancy task force also has called for a slew of changes to how teachers are compensated. Those include:

  • Increasing the basic allotment because school systems are required to use 30% of any bump on compensation for full-time employees, excluding administrators.
  • Update the state’s minimum salary schedule.
  • Provide better support for systems to engage in strategic compensation.
  • Enhance other benefits, such as health care and retirement.

Bonnen predicts teachers will have a great session. He said to expect other boosts beyond a raise, such as improved health care plans. In addition to a pay raise, Goldman also anticipates a likely passage of a cost-of-living increase for retired teachers.

“I think teachers are going to be in a much better position when the Legislature is done,” Bonnen said.

Retired teachers also are hopeful for an increase in benefits after a Senate bill was filed March 10. The bill  proposes that retired teachers 75 and older would get a $7,500 check and a cost-of-living adjustment. 

Teaching has become a ‘political battleground’

The 12 Fort Worth-area school districts exceed the state’s average salary of $44,527, according to the National Education Association

Castleberry ISD has a starting salary of $60,892 — the highest new teacher pay of the 12 Fort Worth-area school districts, according to the United Educators Association. Fort Worth ISD’s starting salary for a new teacher is $60,000.

Salary stagnancy, the strains on the teaching profession post-COVID-19 and the current political climate have contributed to acute teacher shortages and burnout throughout Texas’ public education system, said Curby Alexander, an associate professor of professional practice at Texas Christian University’s College of Education. 

Teaching is a universally important occupation that affects the lives of all Americans and has become a “political battleground” in recent years, Alexander said. 

“An increase in pay may act as a motivator, but many teachers are leaving the profession because the working conditions are not ideal,” Alexander said. “They feel underappreciated and undervalued by parents, their administration and especially the state.”

Teacher Vanida Chanthaphone sits behind her desk in her classroom. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Vanida Chanthaphone, a former teacher in Fort Worth ISD, said she knows firsthand how frequently teachers’ responsibilities require them to work outside of the classroom with little to no extra financial support or recognition.

“I love teaching, but there were times I was putting in 16-hour days,” said Chanthaphone, who now teaches in Aledo ISD. “The compensation isn’t nearly enough when you’re only getting paid for contract hours. A $15,000 raise would be nice, but there are other ways to show Texas’ teachers they’re valued.”

Fort Worth Report journalists Jacob Sanchez and Dave Montgomery contributed to this report.

Shianne Lum is a senior journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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