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Teachers Worried During Teacher Appreciation Week

May 5, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Although this is National Teacher Appreciation Week, not all Texas teachers are feeling the love. The Texas House is expected to take up a bill today that would give local school districts greater flexibility in hiring, firing and paying teachers, as well as setting class-size limits.

Linda Bridges, president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, says the so-called "mandate relief" bill, HB 400, seeks to use a temporary revenue crisis to permanently weaken public education.

"The Texas Legislature is looking at honoring teachers by offering 'mandate relief' to school districts at the expense of students and teachers."

Among the bill's provisions is changing the size limit on K-through-fourth-grade classes from 22 students to a district-wide average. It also would remove various safeguards to teacher contracts and seniority protections, replace a statewide minimum salary structure with "performance pay" requirements based on student test scores, and allow districts greater leeway in furloughing employees. Proponents of the bill say it is needed to balance the state budget.

Teacher organizations could have supported a stop-gap measure, Bridges says, but they can't accept legislation that would make such large and long-standing changes to the public education system.

"This is definitely about a different agenda than just some temporary measures in time of crisis. It's opening the barn door for districts to wreak havoc as far as pay and benefits for teachers in the future."

If lawmakers really wanted to address the education budget shortfall, they would fix the state tax code, Bridges says, which has been chronically under-performing since it was last restructured in 2006.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX