The Austin Chronicle

State Offers Exciting New Incentives Package to Retain Public School Teachers

Tough times for teachers, but the Texas GOP is here to help

By the News Staff, March 31, 2023, News

It was a rare moment of solidarity at the Texas Education Agency headquarters on Congress Avenue on April 1, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick cleared his throat into a microphone. "I am proud to be standing here before you tonight," he said, gesturing to a table beside him where something of an indeterminable shape sat cloaked by a red cloth.

The audience of invited educators from across the state had only an inkling of what was to come. Amid a crisis of teacher retention in the state's public schools, companion bills passed both chambers of the Legislature last week, ensuring a $1.9 billion investment from the state toward exciting new incentives for public school teachers. Though the bill's open-ended language around the nature of those incentives was a concern for Democrats at the Lege, it ultimately gained enough bipartisan support to sail through.

So it happened that Patrick's voice echoed through the room. "Teachers, we heard you. You told us how exhausted you are, how much love and dedication you pour into your work, and how hard it is to live in increasingly expensive communities. Well, it's time to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak." Patrick cracked a smile. "All jesting aside, we at the TEA are proud to announce those benefits, which we hope will lay a foundation of appreciation for not only teachers of today, but also teachers of tomorrow."

Patrick then stepped away from the podium, and with a dramatic swoop of the red cloth, unveiled a gift basket full-to-bursting with incentives. Across the room could be heard a flurry of snapping cameras and gasps of, one assumes, appreciation. Patrick then removed each incentive from the basket with an explanation of its value.

First, a large jar emblazoned with the state coat of arms and the word "TIPS." He explained, "Every teacher who goes above and beyond deserves to get paid above and beyond their salary, so each teacher will receive one highly collectible official State of Texas Tip Jar to place on their desk. This will be there to encourage further rewards for every teacher who goes the extra mile."

"I assure you, we thought of everything," Gov. Greg Abbott would later tell The Dallas Morning News. "The plastic in those tip jars is made with 100% Texas-drilled petroleum. For Texas, by Texas."

After posing for photographers with the tip jar, Patrick removed what, to the audience, looked like an orange-and-white slip of paper, but to teachers, signaled the stamp of approval and acknowledgement they've been waiting for. "Here, a $35 gift certificate for Hobby Lobby, where teachers can find vibrant decorations for their classrooms – and support a pro-Jesus, pro-baby, and, most of all, pro-baby-Jesus corporation," he said.

Next, Patrick revealed a voucher for 10 free wings from Pluckers.

"What we're saying here is, 'We see you,'" TEA Benefits Coordinator Sarah Paulsome told the Chronicle. "When you ask people, 'What do you want out of a job?' – if you really listen to what they're saying – they're not saying pay. You can't put a number on how valuable a teacher is to a community, so you really have to think beyond that. People want tangible benefits that speak to who they are as a person. A Pluckers coupon basically says, you're not just a number to us. You're a whole person. And that person likes chicken."

Patrick then unveiled what he called a "stress mitigation package": one (1) lavender-scented bath bomb and a pack of Pall Malls.

Lastly, the pièce de résistance: a Palmetto State Armory PSAK-47 assault rifle, dubbed an "anti-active-shooter teacher's aide."

Abbott led the room in a vigorous round of applause, later telling a TV station, "School safety was our No. 1 priority this session. We just got that. Because recent history has confirmed, more guns has definitely made us more safe, and not at all a deeply broken country where gun rights – and the gun lobby – are valued more than the lives of schoolchildren and educators and staff."

When we reached out to see what kind of impact this would have on teachers in our community, the most common reaction seemed to be stunned silence. Miranda Vaux, an AISD teacher of fifth-graders in North Austin, commutes from Bastrop every day. She was clearly moved by the state's gesture. She told the Chronicle, "I'm speechless. I literally have no words. I just – I can't," before tearing up with what we can only assume is the utter joy of finally being acknowledged.

Teachers will begin receiving their gift baskets this month, but the historic incentive program has not yet been fully funded. Abbott promised that if Republicans still control the Lege in 2025, they'll make sure every teacher is armed with an assault rifle and a tip jar.

Bonuses for Charter Parents

Patrick's spokespeople declined to put a hard number on the cash value of the gift baskets, but did confirm that any funds left over from the $1.9 billion would go toward the other part of the landmark legislative package, which establishes several incentives for parents who take up the state's offer of a $10,000 voucher per child removed from public school and placed in a charter or private school. This package includes an all-expenses-paid weeklong trip to Walt Disney World® Resort in Orlando, and an air fryer. Families with more than four children are also eligible for a newly built 2,400-square-foot house in designated areas of each Texas city – although a household income of $300,000 and a credit score of 720 are minimum requirements to participate, in order to preserve the character of the designated neighborhoods. Austin's designated "Voucher Zone" (or "VZ") is restricted to eight cul-de-sacs in Steiner Ranch.

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