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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Orders Teacher Shortage Task Force

March 9, 2022 by Reece Nations
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Orders Teacher Shortage Task Force
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference announcing the end of the state's face mask mandate.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is directing the state education agency to create a task force to help school districts address longstanding staffing shortages.

Abbott’s letter, addressed to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, compels the agency to develop a task force to investigate challenges faced by school districts due to teacher shortages, explore best practices for addressing the problem, and study solutions involving certification, placement and hiring. The group is to be composed of experts and stakeholders who will make regulatory and policy recommendations for the TEA.

Although staffing shortages in the state were worsened by the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the underlying causes date back even longer.

Jennifer Mitchell, governmental relations director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, told The Well News the predominant factor cited as the cause is inadequate pay, but working conditions and perception of lack of support are also contributing to the problem.

“I think retention is a larger issue [than recruitment] because many of the districts do offer hiring bonuses or incentives to bring people in initially,” Mitchell said. “They’ll try to move people away from other districts.

“We hear a lot from our older teachers who’ve been in the profession more than 20 years, they’ve maxed out on the salary schedule and they’re not getting any more of those significant raises while they see newer people coming in and getting the big bonuses to try to entice them into the district.”

Although Abbott mentions the possibility of a more flexible certification process for teachers, Mitchell said Texas already has a very loose certification system.

The state Legislature has already carved out a number of exceptions to the certification rules and many school districts have ways to put non-certified teachers or teachers with a different type of certification in the classroom when needed.

It may already be impossible to create a looser set of certification rules in the state without completely eliminating teacher standards altogether, Mitchell said.

One of the other main issues public educators deal with is a perceived lack of support from lawmakers over base salary increases and political issues dealing with parental authority regarding curriculum.

“From what we hear from our teachers, there’s that less tangible support and respect issues that comes into play more,” Mitchell told The Well News. “And I don’t know if the task force is going to be willing to look at that. That’s a really tough issue that I think needs to be talked about.”

Mitchell said it’s not surprising to see the formation of the task force after the “climate of fear” created by Abbott’s parental bill of rights proposal on the campaign trail that was previously reported in The Well News.

Between inadequate pay, the lack of COVID-19 precautions instituted in public schools and parental complaints about the nature of the curriculum, teachers are beginning to feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

One action taken to address teacher retention issues in the past was the state’s “Teacher Incentive Allotment” that came as part of school finance reforms in 2019. House Bill 3, passed by the 86th Texas Legislature, established the optional incentive allotment for teachers, granting a feasible pathway to a six-figure salary for those who prioritize educating in high needs areas and rural district campuses.

However, very few school districts have opted into the program since its installment. The districts are required to develop a local system of evaluating and designating teachers who would qualify for its levels of recognition and school districts must submit a proposal to the TEA before final approval, making it a lengthy process.

Even with approval from the TEA, the money generated by earning recognition is sent to the district that disburses 90% of the allotment to the educator while the remaining portion can be used to cover the district’s administrative costs.

School districts must also pay a fee to submit the paperwork for teachers to be recognized, and Mitchell said the program has had limited success.

These issues are not exclusive to Texas either. Public school teachers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, went on strike this week to call for better wages and improved working conditions as well as caps on class sizes and more mental health services for students, according to the Associated Press.

However, public educators in Texas are forbidden by law from forming picket lines and going on strike to demand changes to the education system. Doing so could come with the penalty of losing their pension and teaching certification in the state.

As for the task force itself and the possible solutions it could bring, Mitchell said she is hopeful the public educators themselves will be able to give input on the changes they would like to see.

“I certainly hope this is going to be something that will involve input from educators who are on the ground and on the front lines,” Mitchell said.

“And hopefully it will be a broad enough cross-section of teachers that will reflect the kind of diversity of the profession around the state. We would love to be part of it. At this point, we have no idea how the agency might structure it.”

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com.


Corrections

This article was corrected to say the attributed source for a quote was the "Association of Texas Professional Educators."

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