By Caitlyn Meisner | Copy Editor
The 88th legislative session in the Texas Congress has begun, and lawmakers across the state said they are intending to dedicate billions to public school education reform.
Texas state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (TX-56) said he is focused on school safety in this session, along with increasing teacher retention through safety efforts.
Anderson said he knows there is not a “one size fits all” solution to school safety, which is why he has met with dozens of superintendents in his district to find a solution that works for each district and school.
“Everybody has different issues in the number of buildings, the size of buildings and the revenue available,” Anderson said. “It’s really a full gambit of what can be done [such as] armed guards or bulletproof glass.”
Anderson also said he doesn’t want the state government to mandate a policy across all districts. He said he wants individual districts to deal with problems they see fit.
The state representative said he cares about improving safety not only school-wide but also in individual classrooms after speaking with many teachers. Anderson said the classrooms must be a safe environment for learning and not places to discipline students.
“So many [teachers] are being assaulted verbally, which is terrible,” Anderson said. “Students don’t appreciate and don’t respect the teachers, so the classroom is not a learning place. I think the emphasis needs to be on improving the classroom environment so it’s a learning environment.”
The teacher shortage crisis is plaguing the nation, and Texas is not immune to massive declines in retention of educators.
McKinney junior and elementary education major Claire Milinski said her entrance into the field as a substitute teacher has opened her eyes to the issues in the public school systems.
“People are so scared of that field right now,” Milinski said. “Teachers cannot even get substitutes, which is even scarier. Especially with school shootings, that only adds to people not wanting to go into the field.”
Milinski said she came to Baylor for their education program and wants to stay in Texas upon graduation. She said she hopes there are more regulations and resources to help with school safety.
“I want to go and teach, but not be worried for my own life, let alone my students in the classroom,” Milinski said.
Anderson said something similar to Milinski in wanting to improve classroom safety so teachers can do what they do best: teach.
“I think having a better work environment would be more incentive for teachers, particularly young teachers and new graduates,” Anderson said. “It’s a learning environment that can encourage the teachers to practice their art.”
Milinski said she hopes the legislature will also look at an increase in teacher salaries, but Anderson said this was mainly for school boards to consider.
“No one ever goes into this field for the money,” Milisnki said. “We’re teaching our next generation and it’s so important to increase the salary, which will impact how many [people] want to go into the field. If there are more benefits and an increase in salary, more people will be open to the field.”
Texas Senator Brian Birdwell for the 22nd District said he is also concerned about school safety in his district and across the state. He said he wants to improve how school districts perform, but after the Uvalde shooting in May 2022, school safety is his chief concern.
Birdwell said there have been talks of around $600 million being allocated to school safety itself, but the numbers are not final. He said this money may go to new door locks and better communication between law enforcement officers.
Birdwell also said his mother and step-father were both public school teachers, so these issues are important to him on many levels.
“It’s a great profession and you don’t do it because you’re going to make gobs of money — you do it because you love what you’re doing and it makes you happy,” Birdwell said. “Teachers are a core element of our society, both culturally and educationally. We want high performing schools, and each teacher plays a role in that like each soldier in a platoon plays a role in what their mission is.”
He said he hopes Baylor students in the education programs will remain in Texas and continue to better the public school system.
“My hope is that they’ll remain in Texas and be a part of a high-performing school,” Birdwell said. “And if they’re part of a school that’s not high-performing, they’ll make it a high-performing school.”