Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, unveiled the legislation Tuesday, along with at least a dozen other Democratic lawmakers. He said the state should spend some of its record budget surplus on that effort, though it’s unclear how Texas Republican leaders would support it.
“Increasing teacher salaries is something we can and should do,” Talarico told reporters on Tuesday.
The average salary is about $58,000. – according to the National Center for Educational Statistics Texas teacher salaries are currently in the top ten poorest states nationwide.
Rep. Talarico’s bill would also include a 25 percent increase for school support staff such as nurses, canteen workers, counselors and bus drivers. The average salary for a K-12 support staff in Texas is $29,067.
“Raising teacher salaries is the single best education investment we can make as a state, and it will provide real estate tax relief,” Talarico said.
Adjusted for inflation, the average weekly wage for U.S. public school teachers rose by just $29 from 1996 to 2021, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies economic data.
During the same period, other college graduates received a $445 increase.
A former high school teacher himself, Talarico said there is no excuse for inaction.
“When I was a teacher, I struggled to make ends meet, and now 40% of Texas teachers work second jobs just to pay the bills,” he said. “No wonder thousands of teachers across the state are leaving the profession.”
In the Austin Independent School District, the average teacher salary is just under $58,000. This academic year, the AISD board of trustees has approved a 2% increase in median pay and a $1,000 increase in base pay for its teachers.
However, Ken Zarifis, president of the Education Austin-Austin ISD workers’ union, said it still wasn’t enough.
“Unless we see a significant increase in funding for schools for all, our public education system in the state of Texas will continue to deteriorate,” he added.
Talarico said he believes his bill will attract and retain the best teachers in Texas schools. However, Republican leaders such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are promising property tax cuts. This could potentially take more money away from school funding.
Democrats at a news conference on Tuesday acknowledged that the proposed $15,000 increase is the optimal amount, though they said talks with Republican lawmakers could lead to a different amount this legislative session.
“I hope we can get the end product as close to $15,000 as possible because, Texas, we don’t do small things, right? We are doing great things in this state,” Talarico said.