As lawmakers start the new session with a historic surplus and are already pointing out their public education priorities, new research released Tuesday shows Texans support teacher raises, want more public school funding and share voucher-like programs.
The Charles Butt Foundation surveyed 1,125 Texan adults for its fourth annual Texas Education Survey, which included about 340 public school parents. The majority of respondents supported public schools and approved of their activities.
“Texas parents are happy with the quality of their school, which gives us great hope,” said Audrey Boklage, vice president of learning and impact at the Charles Butt Foundation. Boklage said her team is handing out the survey results to lawmakers at the Capitol so they can review the data when conversations start about public education policy.
With teacher shortages, financial hardships, pandemic-related learning losses, and political divisions over how race and gender should be taught, schools and the public education system will be among the most important topics lawmakers will discuss in this session. Legislation is already being considered that could change the way public schools are funded, give schools more money per student, and expand controversial “school choice” programs that give parents public money to educate their children outside the public education system.
In the Butt poll, 89% of respondents supported an increase in public funding to raise teacher salaries, which has not increased since 2019.
Some lawmakers and public education advocates believe that raising teachers’ salaries will help address the teacher shortage that the pandemic has exacerbated. Legislators in both the Texas House of Representatives and the Senate have proposed pay raises for teachers, including additional funding for a program that gives teachers bonuses based on their performance. The House Budget Proposal also calls for an increase in the amount schools receive per student, which has not increased in four years. On Tuesday, State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock County, filed Bill 1548 that would give teachers a $15,000 pay raise.
Following the May school shooting in Uvalda, survey participants said school safety was a top priority, with 91% of them saying they supported increased funding for safety programs. More than half of the parents who took part in the survey said they thought their child was at least moderately likely to be cyberbullied, and 48% said the same about physical bullying or fighting. Two-thirds of the parents surveyed said there was a moderate risk that their child might experience some form of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination at school.
Lawmakers have allocated about $600 million to improve school safety in line with House and Senate budget proposals.
“School choice” programs such as vouchers – government-sponsored scholarships for private schools that also became shorthand for measures to take taxpayer money out of public schools – caused more controversy among survey respondents. Of all respondents, 54% said they oppose a voucher program in their communities if it would cut funding for local public schools; parents were evenly divided on the same issue, with 49% saying they were in favor and 49% saying they were against.
Prominent political figures such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the Republican Party of Texas have called “school choice” a legislative priority. Republican lawmakers backing voucher programs think this session could be their best chance to pass something like an education savings account program that would allow parents to use public funds to pay for their children’s private school, online tuition or private tutoring. .
Boklage said the most important takeaway from the survey is that a majority of Texans have a positive view of public schools after nearly three years of uncertainty.
“Based on this poll, Texans seem to be quite active,” she said. “They have an opinion about their public schools and they come from a place of support.”
When asked about a scenario in which private schools were to receive public funds, 88% of survey respondents believe that the state should require them to publicly report their finances, and 73% of respondents believe that the state should require them to follow the state curriculum.
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