‘The political part has muddied the waters’: A longtime Texas educator on why he’s moving out of state

“We want to be recognized for excellence, and I think our politicians and the governor are not supporting that.”

By Laura Rice & Gabrielle MuñozJune 18, 2024 3:02 pm, ,

Jeff Key, an educator in West Texas, has held a variety of roles during his 38 years in the field, from teaching to coaching to working at universities – and where he found his passion and real gift was working with students with special needs. Now, in what he describes as “the sunset of my career,” he’s working with students with visual impairments.

“My experience of special education in the state of Texas has been great,” Key said. “We’ve got a lot of dedicated people that love what they do, and they’re passionate about what they do, and that’s why they keep coming back.”

Key said, though he’s making more money than he ever thought he would in education, it still lags behind peers in other states.

“It’s just frustrating. When they had a chance to give us a substantial pay raise, they didn’t,” he said. “And when it was a time for the governor and the House to really step up and do this, they didn’t.”

Key has seen a lot of burnout among colleagues, as well as those fed up with criticism they receive or hear from politicians saying educators aren’t doing their jobs.

“What Texas does, as far as educationally, I think does well. The funding part, the political part, has really muddied the waters and has really kind of sucked the passion or the life out of what we are passionate about doing,” he said. “We want to be recognized for excellence, and I think our politicians and the governor are not supporting that.”

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Key wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott and lawmakers from the West Texas area last fall to express his frustration with the Legislature – and to explain why a longtime educator like himself is moving his career to New Mexico, where he plans to teach another five years with a $20,000 pay increase.

“I have decided to retire from teaching in Texas at the end of this school year in part to the politicization of our profession from you and the Texas Legislature. I am a proud Texan, born and raised in Texas, but what you and the Legislature have done has gutted our profession,” he wrote. “Your empty words about pay increases but only promise a bonus if your pet project of vouchers is passed is shameful. This pandering to a small minority of people who would prefer private education over public is nonsense. I hope that you will reconsider funding public schools and giving our teachers a substantial pay raise, which we have earned and deserve.”

Key said he’s had a wonderful career in Texas but that the retirement isn’t enough to live on, so educators have to supplement.

“Not to be fully funded or to not have the salary is just frustrating,” he said. “And what really is bittersweet is when the kids come up and give you a hug and they tell you, ‘I’m going to miss you.’ That’s the the reason we’re in it. We make an impact on the kids.”

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