On his first day in Iowa as a Democratic presidential candidate, Beta O’Rourke heard from a man at a coffee shop who said the teachers in his district need more money. The man said teachers are struggling and paying out-of-pocket for school supplies.
Things aren’t much better in Texas, said O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman.
"Nearly half of public school teachers in Texas are working a second or a third job, not for kicks, not for extra spending cash, but just to make ends meet," O’Rourke said March 14 in Keokuk. "To put food on the table, to buy that medication with a $444 co-pay, just to exist. And at the same time, and the gentlemen said this in his question, out of their own pocket, they are buying supplies for their classroom, supplies for the students in them."
Is O’Rourke right about the number of Texas public school teachers with other jobs? O’Rourke’s claim draws from a voluntary, online survey that’s close on the numbers. But he exaggerates when he suggests it’s certain why teachers take outside work.
O’Rourke’s campaign said he relied on survey information from the Texas State Teachers Association. The Texas organization is an affiliate of the National Education Association, a labor union.
(The Texas group recommended to the National Education Association that it endorse O’Rourke’s 2018 bid for the U.S. Senate. O’Rourke narrowly lost the election to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.)
The Texas organization in August 2018 (at the start of the new school year) said that according to a survey, about four of every 10 teachers expected to take extra jobs outside the classroom "to meet family expenses."
"Some 39 percent of TSTA respondents said they needed second jobs during the school year to supplement their school salaries," the Texas organization said in August. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they had summer jobs when school was not in session, the group said.
"Teacher pay in Texas has been subpar for a long time, and the financial plight of teachers has worsened in recent years because of rising health insurance costs," Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, told PolitiFact.
The Texas teachers organization did not have a breakdown of how many teachers specifically had second or third jobs to offset financial needs.
The average salary of public school teachers in Texas is below the national average. Texas teachers on average got paid $53,167 for the 2017-2018 school year. Nationwide, teachers that school year got paid an average of $60,483
There is no data on why specifically teachers took additional jobs, but it would seem that the overriding reason is to make ends meet, said Dr. Robert Maninger, an associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Sam Houston State University. He’s one of the researchers who conducted the Texas survey. The majority of moonlighting jobs center around the teaching profession, such as tutoring, Maninger said.
Dick Startz, an economics professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, (not associated with the survey) also told us that he doesn’t think there is much data available on why teachers in general take extra jobs; whether it’s to make ends meet or for extras for the family. He also said he suspected that the Texas survey results might not be representative of all state teachers because those who responded were likely selective.
Researchers sent a survey link to all members of the Texas teachers organization and members voluntarily responded. There are about 50,000 teachers in the organization; 974 answered the survey.
Is the survey reflective of all public school teachers in Texas? Texas has about 350,000 public school teachers.
"‘Reflective of all’ would be impossible, I would think," Maninger said. "Could I generalize our results across the population of teachers in Texas? I think so."
Sam Houston State University has been surveying teachers about their pay since 1980, Maninger noted. "Over the last decade the number of ‘yes’ answers to moonlighting has been 31 to 44 percent," he said.
In his February State of the State address, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared school finance reform and increasing teacher pay as emergency items. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would give classroom teachers and school librarians an annual pay raise of $5,000.
More broadly at a national level, 18 percent of regular, full-time public school teachers reported having a job outside the school system to supplement their income, the U.S. Department of Education said in a June 2018 report that draws from the 2015–16 National Teacher and Principal Survey.
Regionally, 17 percent of teachers in the South had a job outside their school system. (The South region included Texas, the District of Columbia, and 15 other states.) The Department of Education said its data was based on a nationally representative sample survey of public K–12 schools, principals, and teachers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
O’Rourke said, "Nearly half of public school teachers in Texas are working a second or a third job, not for kicks, not for extra spending cash, but just to make ends meet."
O’Rourke’s claim is based on responses to a voluntary, online survey sent to about 50,000 Texas public school teachers. Respondents were self-selected. Close to 1,000 responded. Thirty-nine percent said they needed second jobs during the school year, and 56 percent said they had summer jobs when school was not in session.
On average, public school teachers get paid less in Texas than nationally. But researchers say there is limited information on why teachers take additional jobs. O’Rourke’s claim makes it sound as if paying for basic necessities is the only reason why teachers take extra jobs. That might be the case for some teachers, but we don’t know if it is the driving factor for all of them.
O’Rourke’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.