Texas AFT unveils legislative priorities to retain teachers, help students

Education policy has been a hot topic of discussion at the Texas Capitol this week. 

One of the state's largest teachers' unions, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, has unveiled its legislative priorities that they say are crucial in order to retain teachers and do right by students. 

Tammy Conrad, a board member of Education Round Rock, joins FOX 7 Austin's John Krinjak to discuss. 

JOHN KRINJAK: Well, Tammy, I want to mention also that you are a teacher at Summer Elementary in Round Rock. Just based on your own experience, what are your biggest concerns right now about the state of K-12 education here in Texas?

TAMMY CONRAD: Well, I'm very concerned about teacher retention or staff retention, not just teachers. I see people leaving every year. I see people leaving midyear for a variety of reasons. And a big one is salaries. I just know somebody who left about three weeks ago, a paraprofessional, and she couldn't afford to live and support her family on the salary she was making. So she went to the corporate world and is making twice as much money. And that's great for her. But sad for our students who are losing a teacher and sad for the other employees who have to work harder until they hire someone else. 

JOHN KRINJAK: So you think you're saying salaries? That's the big thing. That's the biggest reason why teachers are leaving.

TAMMY CONRAD: I think that's a big thing. It's also all the things that have piled on since COVID hit. It's been a long three years now, I believe. First, teachers had to learn to adjust to online learning and teaching, and then some teachers had to do hybrid teaching with some kids in the classroom and some kids virtual. And it just has continued to be extra work every year because of those types of things. 

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JOHN KRINJAK: So obviously, it makes sense that a lot of the Texas AFT's priorities center around this issue. Right. Trying to stem that shortage, stem that kind of mass exodus of public school teachers in our state. What do you think are the best ways to do that? And what are you proposing this session? 

TAMMY CONRAD: Well, Texans, they have to, with their respect pledge. One of the things they're proposing and asking for and actually we're going to demand it is a $10,000 salary increase for educators and then a 15% increase for other staff members. That's one way to keep employees if we can pay them more money. But of course, we're also asking that the state increase the basic allotment for student funding right now, depending on which survey you look at, where the bottom compared to other states across the nation, we're at about 39th per student funding compared to other states. And that's just not right for a state as great as Texas that has so much funding available, so much surplus, we should be funding our public education schools appropriately.

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JOHN KRINJAK: Last thing I wanted to ask you, I know it's not lost on teachers. This is the first legislative session since Uvalde. How important is it that lawmakers take action on things like mental health and school safety? 

TAMMY CONRAD: And it's very important. One of the things that I respect to pledge is that we want to see there be a school nurse and a mental health professional at every campus and that the number of those professionals on campus is dependent on how many students there are. It just makes good sense for our students to be safe and to have people to talk to and help them. And then, of course, we also have school safety on our pledge as well. And that comes to, comes back in a lot of ways to funding if we're funded appropriately. Then we can do things to make our schools safer. But of course, we also need to look at changing the gun laws to keep those guns out of the hands of people that don't need to have them.

JOHN KRINJAK: All right. Tammy Conrad from Education Round Rock. Tami, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your perspective. And thank you for your service as a teacher. We appreciate it. 

TAMMY CONRAD: Thank you. I enjoyed it. Thank you.