By Brian Lopez / Texas Tribune
Nearly a year after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a task force to look at the state’s teacher shortages, the group is recommending that lawmakers increase salaries, improve training and commit to respecting teachers’ time.
“The Texas legislature, the (Texas Education Agency), and school systems should prioritize enacting and fully funding these recommendations to ensure that every Texas school is staffed with effective, supportive, and committed teachers,” the task force said in a report released Friday.
The job of the task force — a mix of educators and school administrators — was to investigate why these shortages exist, recommend policy changes to the TEA and consider more flexibility in the teacher certification process. The report will be shared with the members of the House and Senate education committees and is available to the public online.
The recommendations come as state lawmakers looking at how to spend a historic $32.7 billion budget surplus are prioritizing teacher raises and increasing the base amount of money that school districts receive per student. Abbott said lawmakers are ready to have the report guide them as they work on improving the teaching profession in the state.
“We will develop and implement strategies that attract, retain, and support highly qualified educators to provide students across the state with even greater opportunities to learn and grow,” he said.
While Texas and the rest of the country have dealt with teacher shortages for years, the pandemic exacerbated them. Shifting requirements on masking and the closure then reopening of schools have taken a toll on teachers. At the same time, schools have become the center of the state’s culture wars, and teachers are caught in the crossfire.
Meanwhile, teacher compensation has stagnated. Texas ranks 28th in the nation for teacher pay, $7,652 less than the national average, according to the latest National Education Association report.
Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said the report echoes what his union has heard over the last several years and is hopeful lawmakers will enact its recommendations.
“I’m glad that they’re recognizing and lifting up what we have been fighting and pushing for,” he said. “What we’ve been hearing from members and educators across the state is this lack of respect.”
Matthew Gutierrez, superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District, said the report is a good starting point for lawmakers to understand teachers’ needs and hopes that the debate over voucher-like programs like education savings accounts doesn’t derail any potential funding for school districts.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about additional funding coming into public education,” he said.
Here are the report’s findings.
Teacher should get raises
The task force recommends that the state increase the basic allotment, which is currently at $6,160 per student. State law requires that school districts must use 30% of any additional revenue they receive to increase employee salaries. The allotment has not increased since 2019, when lawmakers overhauled the school finance system.
“Salaries have not kept up with recent inflation, and pay disparities continue to exist across the state,” the task force noted in the report.
The task force is also asking lawmakers to raise the percentage of the allotment that must go to teacher salaries, though it did not say by how much.
In addition, the group recommends increasing the minimum salary schedule, which is the minimum teachers should be making per year of experience. Currently, it would take at least 20 years of experience for teachers to make over $54,000 a year. While many school districts already pay more than the minimum salary, teachers at small and rural school districts earn the minimum amount or slightly more.
“The minimum salary schedule should be raised to reflect the impact of teachers and differentiated by factors that positively impact student outcomes such as tenure and certification pathways,” the task force said.
The report said the total compensation teachers receive must also be increased as health care costs on average went up about 5% over the past 20 years, but the state and district’s contribution to health plans remained the same.
Lawmakers have already filed some bills that would raise teacher pay. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, filed House Bill 882, which would increase the basic allotment per student to $7,075 and would adjust it annually according to inflation. State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, filed House Bill 1548, which would give all Texas teachers a $15,000 pay raise.
More training and support
While the task force believes pay is a top priority, it also called for a better employment pipeline and improved retention techniques to keep teachers in the field.
The group recommends expanding programs and pathways for high school students wanting to become teachers. It also said the state should establish and fund teacher residency programs that would pay would-be teachers to train for a year and work with an experienced educator in a public PK-12 classroom, similar to the medical field.
“Research shows that teacher residency models increase teacher retention, effectively place teachers in hard-to-staff areas, and positively impact student outcomes,” the task force said.
The task force recommended expanding mentorship programs for teachers and helping them take more leadership roles. It also said teachers spend much of their time creating and looking for lesson plans and should have easy access to high-quality teaching materials to help them.
Better working conditions needed
In a task force survey, teachers said that an unsustainable workload is the No. 1 reason they leave the workforce. They also cited campus morale, discipline and lack of adequate mental health support as contributing factors to workplace stress.
The task force recommends that the Legislature fund a study of how teachers use their time to better understand their duties and how to streamline them. Administrators should also redesign their district’s schedule to allow teachers more time for planning and development, the task force said. In addition, school systems and the TEA need to adopt better staffing plans so teachers don’t get more work when a colleague is out and a substitute is unavailable.
The task force is also calling for more counseling staff to combat student behavioral issues and offer more effective disciplinary measures. School administrators should also receive training on best discipline practices and how to foster a positive learning environment.
“I am confident that state leadership will act upon these recommendations which are the result of nearly a year’s worth of collaboration and hard work among district leaders, teachers, educational organizations, and other stakeholders,” said Josué Tamárez Torres, task force chair and a 4th and 5th grade bilingual math teacher.