- Julie Chang American-Statesman Staff
More than 1,000 teachers and retired public school teachers, members of all major statewide teacher groups, descended onto the Capitol on Monday to decry major parts of Gov. Greg Abbott’s education agenda that lawmakers are slated to tackle during the special legislative session that starts Tuesday.
Traveling from across the state, the teachers wore red t-shirts as they rallied in the blistering heat against what they called state leaders’ attempts to privatize education and silence teachers by giving them a $1,000 pay raise without adding new money into the public education system.
“Gov. Abbott stands up and says his $1,000 pay raise is not an unfunded mandate. Well, I’m here to tell you if it walks … smells … quacks … like an unfunded mandate, it’s an unfunded mandate — and for you to say anything else, this smells like a fresh pile of cow chips,” said Michael Lee, the interim superintendent of the Booker school district in the Panhandle.
Lee was one of 11 speakers at the event organized by a 13,000-member Facebook group Texans for Public Education.
Many of the teacher associations that rallied also signed a letter sent Monday to Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, disagreeing with the way Abbott and Patrick want to handle most of the education-related special session items.
Meanwhile, Abbott reiterated Monday that the pay raise would retain high-quality teachers, while Patrick said that critics of the plan want to implement a statewide income tax.
Garnering criticism for some education groups, bills that have been filed so far that align with Abbott’s agenda include one that would prohibit school districts from deducting teacher association dues from teacher paychecks.
Another bill would allow state money to be redirected from public schools to help students with special needs pay for private school tuition. Critics have said the bill would create a private school voucher system.
“It would create a class system because our neediest kids don’t have parents that can transport them to any school they want to go to,” said Stephanie Stoebe, a Round Rock school district elementary teacher, who attended the rally to oppose a voucher-like system. “Students who speak another language — their parents don’t understand the process to take advantage of a voucher.”
Last week, Patrick unveiled a plan to give teachers a $1,000 pay raise, as well as a $600 to $1,000 yearly bonus, depending on how long the teacher has worked.
Patrick said that existing funds would be used to pay for the raises and bonuses — and if voters agree, lottery money would be used to maintain the bonuses and raises.
“I just think the pay raise is a little carrot, a distraction” from other education issues, said Christie Smith, a kindergarten school teacher in the Pflugerville school district.