Summer break is a fabled time of rest and relaxation, three months of frolicking by the pool and watching daytime television. But that notion is far from reality for educators. There may be some rest and relaxation involved, but more often than not, summer serves as a time for educators to shift gears, regroup, refocus, and plan ahead for the next school year.
Many teachers across our state will march right back into the classroom after the final bell rings to teach summer school and aid kids who need extra attention. Others will invest time and energy into their profession by attending seminars and trainings to receive the continuing education credits necessary to maintain their certifications. Regardless of how educators spend their summers, there’s one thing that persists the entire year and intensifies during the summer months—the financial stress inherent in the education profession.
Conduct a Google search for “teacher summer jobs” and you’ll find job forums and websites abounding with ways educators can make extra cash during the summer. As the so-called “gig economy” continues to have its cultural moment, there have been tales of teachers moonlighting as Uber drivers to make ends meet. For para-educators, the challenge of making ends meet during the summer months is even harder. While some educators in our state are fortunate enough to work in districts with 12-month pay options, others are limited to a 10-month pay schedule. For those employees, the end of the school year also means the end of a paycheck.
The fact that educators often struggle financially is one of many things that doesn’t make sense about school finance in Texas. Despite a median salary of $52,525, Texas still fares poorly in terms of total compensation. This is partly because Texas is among the lowest ranked states in non-salary compensation. In fact, the pension contribution rate for employees covered under the Teacher Retirement System is only 8.3 percent (with 6.8 percent being contributed by the state and a mandate that districts contribute 1.5 percent). Other state employees (including members of the legislature) covered by the state’s Employee Retirement System pension plan receive a 9.5 percent contribution from the state.
Compared to states that do not pay into Social Security, Texas contributes less than half of the next lowest state. At the state level, healthcare premiums for active and retired teachers have increased exponentially despite short-term relief efforts passed during last year’s special session, and the legislature continues to supply less than 40 percent of the funds required to keep public schools afloat, forcing local districts to raise property taxes in order to keep doors open.
Texas educators need a real break, not just a summer “vacation” that’s merely a break from instruction. They need a break from the constant financial stress that has plagued districts and their staffs for years. They need across-the-board salary increases, not bonuses tied to standardized testing, a one-time unfunded pay raise of $1,000, or a busted $10,000 campaign promise. Teachers need competitive healthcare and retirement benefits so that the state can attract and retain gifted educators for this vital profession. Teachers need schools that are properly funded so that they can create the learning experiences their students need to thrive without having to dip into their own paychecks to buy school supplies. Teachers need a legislature that doesn’t just offer up the same tired voucher legislation under the guise of “school choice” but instead properly funds school districts and delivers the property tax relief legislators say they want to provide.
As we anticipate the November general election and the Texas legislature gears up for 2019, I hope that educators across our state will remember the shortcomings of the previous session and demand the relief they deserve.
For more details on how ATPE supports Texas educators at the legislature, see our blog at TeachTheVote.org. For real-time updates from our lobby team, follow @teachthevote on Twitter.