Invest in Great Teaching and Pre-K

By Natalie Brown, a 13-year teacher at Frank Guzick Elementary in Dallas ISD and Teach Plus Policy Fellow

This legislative session is being called the Education Session, because the 86th Legislature is considering investing billions of new dollars in education, many targeted to the students who need it most. Of the many excellent investments being proposed, I particularly support funding additional pay for excellent teachers and investments in full-day, high-quality pre-K.

For me, this issue is personal. I owe some of my success as an educator to a teacher from Corsicana, Texas, named Ms. Avery, who loved what she did and saw potential in students who were hard to like. Ms. Avery took interest in one particular student with whom others didn’t hang around much. He was often dirty from digging through trash cans to find food for himself and his siblings to ensure they wouldn’t go hungry that day. She bought him clothes and new shoes when the ones he was wearing were too worn out to be functional anymore. Every chance she got, she would remind him that his current tough circumstances were temporary. She encouraged him to focus on his education as the key to a better life. That boy is now my husband, and he is now in upper management at one of the world’s largest retailers. Our family will forever be grateful to Ms. Avery for the investment she made in a kid who others used to call “Dirty Brown.”

To us, she is worthy of every dollar in the budget, for what price can you put on changing someone’s life?

I do my best to channel Ms. Avery with my students, to give kids like Abigail hope for a better future when she worries about ICE picking her up on her way home and being separated from her family. She often says leaving school is her least favorite part of the day. I have extra pairs of shoes to give Trey, when the ones he has wear out from walking with his family before going back to the local homeless shelter for the evening.

These students are why I’m encouraged that the legislature appears poised to make significant and strategic investments in public education.

First, we must pass legislation that will provide funding for increasing Texas teachers’ salaries so they aren’t making $7,000 less than the national average, especially through investments like HB 3’s Effective Educator Allotment. I teach in Dallas ISD, and the investment my district has made in its teachers is unmatched by other districts in Texas. Student achievement has increased alongside the increase in teachers’ salaries, and the retention of effective teachers is 94 percent.

In short, our students are doing better and our teachers are not only staying in the profession, but choosing to stay in Dallas.

The stability this creates not only benefits our students, but our local communities and the state as a whole. Yet because of Texas’ Robin Hood system, these investments will be unsustainable without state-level school finance reform. And many other districts will never be able to begin similar initiatives without significant additional state funding.

Second, we need to allocate resources so our high-need students have access to equitable education and can grow into contributing, working citizens. Additional funding for all K-3 students who are low-income or English language learners would reward quality early childhood programs and better prepare our students for future successes.

Investing in our younger students in a proactive way will help close proficiency gaps. Similar investments have paid off in Dallas, where our gains in third grade reading were higher than that of the state.

Finally, ensuring high quality in any field requires smart, strategic investment. School districts all across the state are in need of additional funds so that the programs and incentives that work now are sustainable through the long term. The data from these programs implemented by Dallas ISD is well documented. It is the reason a district with over 150,000 students and the most diverse student populations in the state is able to earn a B rating.

As a teacher, and the wife of someone whose life was changed forever by a wonderful teacher, I know that the kind of equitable investments being proposed can make an enormous difference for students.

Investing in public education works. Now we just need to make sure our lawmakers can make it happen.
Joshua Kumler