I was shocked when I read her email. I had never received any type of correspondence like it from any politician, ever! Wendy Davis, who is running for Texas State Governor next year, asked me what my story was. She asked, “What challenges do you and your family face? What issues should be addressed to strengthen our families?” For the last five years her running opponent, Greg Abbott, the Texas State Attorney General since 2002, has been anything but cordial, sympathetic, or hopeful toward me; just cold and impersonal. If there are those who have not heard of Greg Abbott, then my point is made.
Like Wendy Davis, some human beings would take a few minutes to ask questions like, What’s going on with these issues? How did things get to this point? What can we do to improve things? Wow. Imagine that, a politician who wants to know and listen to the nuts-and-bolts of a situation and its causes, its factors from the actual people affected! What an invitation! What an opportunity!
This is what I told her…
Wendy, I am a two-years unemployed certified 4-8 General Ed, Special Ed (pending) teacher, father of a 2nd year college daughter, and 12-year old son who live over 300-miles away and I briefly see maybe twice a year. In the summer of 2012 my charter school where I taught – whose student body was 82% Special Needs and a third were wards of the state from horrific homes and circumstances – lost four of its six major funding grants. Education cuts were not only happening nationwide, but just as much statewide. As a result, our school resources were severely stretched or eliminated. These cuts included much-needed hiring of additional qualified staff, aides, and most importantly certified teachers for the increased numbers of Special Ed students coming in from other nearby closing schools AND the result of marketing and attracting more Special Ed students necessary to keep our two meager remaining grants for 2013. The federal and state cuts also meant no annual 2% – 3% pay raises for any current teachers and staff; I was grossing $31,380 per year (or $2,080 a month, or barely $13/hour after automatic child support garnishments) for 60-70 hours minimum per week of work. Need I get into net earnings minus healthcare pay-deductions and cost of living expenses? The math is depressing.
One assessment some schools and districts use to monitor their teacher’s development and well-being, especially those on campuses teaching behavioral-emotional Special Needs students and wards-of-the-state, is a stress-anxiety assessment. At the end of the school year, I scored in the upper 10% at risk; almost “Highly at Risk” for accelerated health deterioration.
My At Risk for health deterioration was compounded monthly by financial and legal pressures from the Texas Child Support Services and the state Attorney General’s Office. During my annual checkup at the doctor’s office, he told me flat-out I need to find a different job; a job where I at least had the time (somewhere in the 24-hours) to exercise and relieve the stress. This was my response to him:
If I quit my job doctor, I only compound my problems. If I fall behind even two months unemployed, the Texas Attorney General’s Office report those failures immediately to all credit bureaus. Sometimes it is less than two months. Most all potential employers today use an extensive background check – especially for teachers – as well as credit checks which are used for financial decisions and interest rates, let alone everything else creditors, lenders, businesses, etc, etc. families, parents, and me, the non-custodial parent, struggle with and fight to stay afloat month-to-month. I don’t know Doc what the answer is. This was his reply: “As long as you understand the health consequences if SOMETHING doesn’t give.”
For the 2011-2012 school year I taught 5th – 8th Social Studies, 5th – 8th Enhanced Learning Lab (elective), 9th – 12th Career Tech (elective), and assistant coach athletics for after-school activities. In late summer my charter school informed me that for the coming 2012-2013 school year, I would have to teach 4th – 8th grade Science and Social Studies of which all periods would have 2 or 3 grade levels of the subject in the same classroom. For you readers who are not teachers or familiar with Texas state curriculum and standards, every single grade level in science is a different development module with some crossovers. In Social Studies, 4th graders cover basic Texas history, 5th graders cover basic American history, 6th graders cover basic World history, 7th graders cover more-advanced Texas history, and 8th graders cover more-advanced American history. The only crossover I would be afforded to ease the 35%-40% workload increase would’ve been 4th and 7th, and 6th – 8th. And as a reminder, almost half of each class are Special Needs wards-of-the-state students. Myself and other teachers had no aids because there was no money to pay for them, and that would be the case again for the upcoming bigger classes for the upcoming year.
As most people are aware, our public education systems have gone through needed reform. Some of it has been successful and improved. However, there is obviously much more work to be done and equalities protected! More importantly, radical state and federal funding cuts only exacerbate the problems and worse put at great risk our country’s future leaders and skilled educated collaborating future government officials and citizens. Public education is not and never has been “secular brainwashing or compromise.” Those speculations are left to individual homes and parents, not public schools. Public education is and has been primarily for those children and adolescents who come from not-so-advantaged homes, even severely impoverished, to have a decent chance of becoming a productive future citizen and not an expensive public liability in prisons, mental institutions, or rehab clinics; all of which require MORE taxpayer dollars in the long run. Yes, a headache can be cured by decapitation (i.e. conservative-pushed cuts), but is it productive change? Is it “economic/fiscal responsibility” on all levels? No.
I resigned in August 2012. Today, I am still unemployed as a certified General and Special Ed teacher. I spend an average of 12-18 hours a day seeking and completing long extensive applications for teaching positions in districts that haven’t been so severely hit by funding cuts. Meanwhile, each month I receive a cold, unconcerned collection statement from the Attorney General’s Office showing in bold type my higher rising balance plus interest. Like a home mortgage or auto loan, this monthly defaulting is reported to all credit bureaus. Should my arrears reach $10,000 my case will go into the Enforcement Stage and a warrant for my arrest will be issued. DeAnna Shields, a Killeen, Texas web-radio talk show host, student of mental health studies, parent, and U.S. Army Widow volunteer, writes a telling article about Texas Child Support laws from Greg Abbott’s office on CNN’s iReport. Read it here.
Wendy Davis, clearly I am and have felt the detrimental effects of a plunging credit score and unemployment. I wonder how jail time would affect my job search. Thank you so much for asking about my story Wendy! A little digging, a little personal human interaction, a little effort to understand the long-term effect of lawmaking goes a very long way. I really hope next year I will be addressing you as Governor Davis!
Unemployed Texas Special-Ed Teacher
Post-script — “Greg Abbott leads Wendy Davis by single digits” — Politico, 10/2/2013. If you are interested, here is her campaign website: http://www.wendydavistexas.com/
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