Texas must prioritize public education over high school football

Audrey Larcher

When I moved to Texas at the beginning of my high school career, I joined Lake Travis’ dance program. I didn’t know that, in this state, dance actually meant drill team, and drill team meant going to football games every weekend. Nonetheless, I stood in the bleachers every Friday, shaking pom-poms for my peers after a tackle.

But although I spent countless hours at the stadium, I witnessed more of football’s impact when I was off the field. Whether by diverting administrative support from different extracurriculars or permeating classroom discussions, the sport seemed to overshadow other important aspects of education. 

So when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Lake Travis High School’s head coach earned $155,156 annually — compared to the average $49,758 salary the district pays teachers — I wasn’t surprised. But my alma mater isn’t the only one with these particular priorities. A large number of other high schools across the state dole out six-figure salaries to their head coaches as well.

The report’s findings send a clear message to our state: football deserves more support than any other part of school — including the professionals in actual classrooms.

These enormous salaries prompt the question of what Texans are paying for when it comes to football programs. Our state’s education system exists to equip children with the tools necessary for success. Sports can help us meet that goal, instilling a slew of positive traits in students. Yet I developed team building skills, perseverance and work ethic in my high school dance program, and my instructor did not demand compensation anywhere close to what hundreds of football coaches see. 

The stadiums that high school teams play in offer entertainment, not learning enrichment. Allen Independent School District spent $60 million so 18,000 spectators could enjoy the Friday night lights in the state’s largest stadium for a single high school. Several districts have erected jumbotrons, which help audiences watch plays but don’t do a lot for students working hard to improve endurance. Katy upgraded its stadium with bond money before remembering it had an elementary school to be built. 

These investments all go toward improving an audience experience, not maximizing what students gain from sports. It would be reasonable for our state to spend money on retaining coaches who help students improve their integrity or work ethic, but we also need teachers in order to accomplish this goal. 

While several students might spend time on the field, a greater number of students spend more time in classrooms, where leadership and guidance from well-equipped teachers goes a long way. If Texas wants to improve its education system, we must work to make teachers comfortable enough in their occupation to excel. Actually legalizing teacher unions would be a positive first step, if our legislators were capable of conjuring up some respect.

In the face of our state education system’s serious shortcomings, the obscene disparity between football coach and teacher salaries is not only an insult to educators, but a true disservice to students. There are many barriers we must cross if we want to remedy our public schools. Diverting energy from frivolous football expenditures will not solve all of them, but it will at least help us focus on what really matters — actual education.

Larcher is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing sophomore from Austin.