Teachers walked out in Colorado and Arizona Thursday demanding more school funding, but it's an unlikely scene for Texas teachers. The protests Thursday come on the heels of several other states protesting low teacher salaries.
In Texas, education advocates say it’s unlikely there will be an organized strike since teachers who do could lose their teaching certificates or pensions under state law. Still, they say it’s time for change.
Earlier this week, the National Education Association announced Texas has dropped from 26th in the country to 29th when it comes to average teacher pay. Still, it could be argued that Texas sits fairly in the middle of the road. But when it comes to retirement, advocates say that compensation for Texas teachers needs a lot of improvement.
Texas is one of the few states where most retired teachers don’t receive social security. Instead, they receive a pension. The state pays 6.8 percent into that pension, which the Association of Texas Professional Educators says is the least of any other state in the country.
ATPE lobbyist Monte Exter says the second big compensation problem for both retirees and active teachers is health care.
He says for active teachers, the state introduced a new program in 2001 in which it contributed $75 a month, the districts contributed a minimum of $150 a month and teachers contributed the rest. As costs have risen since then, teachers have carried the sole burden of inflation except in districts which opt to pay more.
For retirees, Exter says costs have also increased, and the free option that once existed disappeared during the last legislative session.
That’s why groups like the Frisco Area Retired School Personnel make regular trips to Austin to meet with lawmakers.
“We retired teachers are fighting not only for retired teachers but also current teachers. They’re both having difficulty in going to the doctor, in deciding, 'Do I really need that prescription?' 'Can I get by without it?'" said retired Prosper teacher Brenda George. "You know they’re having to make decisions that affect their family and their own health,”
George and her friend, the group’s president, Sandy Carlisle say they’ve been well-received by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Still, there’s many they feel still need to be convinced.
“It’s real. The problem is very real right now,” Carlisle said.
So they continue to fight in a state where teachers are unlikely to strike. Although they do hope walkouts in other parts of the country raise public awareness and concern, which Exter says can go a long way.
“The most powerful thing teachers can do here is find out which candidates support public education, figure out who those candidates are and go vote for them,” said Exter.