Throughout the legislative session, advocacy groups of all stripes make their way to the statehouse to push for their interests.
Among them is the Texas State Teachers Association, the biggest teachers union in Texas, and the state affiliate of the National Education Association. TSTA President Ovidia Molina said she wants to see the state put some of its multibillion dollar budget surplus toward “fully funding public education.” This means something different in different regions, but across the board it means funding programs that districts need to serve students, she said.
“We’re looking to our legislators to ensure that they are putting money into our students, into their futures,” she said. “Our rural communities need something different than our suburban and urban communities need.”
A big need at the moment, Molina said, is increasing pay for educators in the face of a widespread teacher shortage.
“Our educators need a pay increase,” she said. “I use the word ‘educators’ because our elected officials like to use the word ‘teachers.’ But there are so many more professionals besides our teachers that also need pay increases in our school systems.”
Molina said that TSTA surveys show many school employees need to have second jobs to make ends meet, and that the association will be pushing for meaningful pay increases that aren’t canceled out by things like rising health care costs.
The TSTA wants teacher voices in conversations about schools and curriculum, Molina said, especially in the wake of controversies over library books and classroom discussions covering race and sexuality.
“The rhetoric that has been thrown around from people that were running for office that are now in office, trying to create a wedge between parents and public schools, is a small group of loud people that have been taking the drama and creating a problem,” she said. “We all want to work together to ensure that our students get the best education. And we’re going to continue to sort of speak out and help parents understand that our doors are open. We want you in our schools; we want you to ask questions.”
Molina said she expects to see bipartisan support of education, especially from Republicans who represent rural districts, where communities don’t have many alternatives to the public school system.
“We know that we have representatives on either side that are supportive of our public schools, especially in our rural communities, where they have seen school districts have to be really creative into ensuring that they have teachers in front of students, ensuring that they have the programs that need the funding,” she said. “We are going to have to be just as loud as that other side that says that we are only hurting our students, because we know that we become educators to help our students to ensure that they have the best education and the brightest future possible.”