AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Democratic state lawmaker is bringing forward a plan to increase teacher salaries by $15,000, a proposal he calls the biggest pay raise in Texas history.
State Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, unveiled this legislation Tuesday alongside at least a dozen other Democratic lawmakers. He said the state should spend part of its record budget surplus on this effort, though it’s unclear how Texas Republican leaders will support it.
“Raising teacher pay is something we can do and something we must do,” Talarico told reporters Tuesday.
Rep. Talarico’s bill would also include a 25% bump for support staff in schools — such as nurses, cafeteria workers, counselors and bus drivers. The average K-12 support staff salary in Texas is $29,067.
“Raising teacher pay is the single best educational investment we can make as a state and would provide true property tax relief,” Talarico said.
According to the Economic Policy Institute — a nonprofit that examines economic data — when adjusted for inflation, the average weekly pay of public-school teachers in the U.S. only rose $29 from 1996 to 2021.
During that same period, other college graduates experienced a $445 increase.
2019 legislation gave Texas teachers a pay raise. However, a report from the Texas American Federation Teachers Union said salaries have actually decreased by an average of four percent in the past decade, when you account for inflation.
“Many teachers are still forced to get a second job in order to support themselves and their families due to our low salary,” Deanna Perkins, a Leander ISD teacher said.
That’s why Talarico said this big raise is needed now.
“We have an emergency teacher shortage in the state, and it requires emergency action by the Texas legislature,” Talarico said.
A former middle school teacher himself, Talarico said there’s no excuse for failing to take bold action.
“When I was a teacher, I struggled to make ends meet and now, 40% of Texas teachers work a second job just to pay the bills,” he said. “It’s no wonder that thousands of teachers across our state are leaving the profession.”
Within the Austin Independent School District, the average teacher salary is just below $58,000. This school year, the AISD board of trustees approved a 2% raise at the pay scale midpoint and a $1,000 base pay increase for its teachers.
However, Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin — Austin ISD’s employee union, said it’s still not enough.
“If we don’t see significant increases in school funding for all, our public education system in the state of Texas will continue to deteriorate,” he added.
A ‘Living Wage’ study found in Austin, a single adult— with no kids—would need to make roughly $55,000 dollars after taxes.
KXAN investigators have found the average salary for Austin area teachers before taxes is $33,000-$54,-000.
Talarico said he believes his bill will attract and retain the best teachers in Texas classrooms. Yet, Republican leaders, such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, are promising property tax relief. That could potentially take more money away from school funding.
The Democrats at Tuesday’s news conference admitted the $15,000 proposed increase is the optimal amount, though they said negotiations with Republican lawmakers could result in a different number through this legislative session.
“I’m hoping, as much as possible, we can move the final product closer to $15,000 because, Texas, we don’t do things small, right? We do big things in this state,” Talarico said.