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State task force recommends better pay, more resources to fix Texas teacher shortage

  A state task force recommended better pay and more resources to fix Texas teacher shortage in a report released Friday Feb. 24, 2023.
A state task force recommended better pay and more resources to fix Texas teacher shortage in a report released Friday Feb. 24, 2023.

Better pay, lower health care costs and improved working conditions and training for teachers should be prioritized to ensure Texas hires and keeps enough educators to teach Texas’ school children.

That’s according to a report released Friday by the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force, a 46-member committee created in March 2022 at the behest of Gov. Greg Abbott to address the state’s teacher shortage.

The final report focuses on three categories the committee says can retain current educators and help recruit new ones: compensation, training and support and working conditions.

Texas ranks in the bottom half nationally for average teacher salary, coming in at 28th, according to the National Education Association. Because of that, an emphasis needs to be placed on compensation and pay disparity, according to the study’s findings.

The report acknowledged that lawmakers increased teacher pay during the 2019 legislative session but said the rate of inflation needs to be considered four years later.

“Salaries have not kept up with recent inflation, and pay disparities continue to exist across the state,” the authors wrote. “For example, there is an $8,998 pay gap between median beginner teacher salaries in suburban areas versus median beginner teacher salaries in rural areas.”

The recommendations include increasing the minimum salaries for new teachers and decreasing the time needed to earn higher wages. The current minimum salary is just below $34,000 and only increases by about $10,000 a year after 10 years of experience.

The task force added that though the cost of health care has increased by about 5% each year over the last two decades, the total employer contribution for teachers has stayed the same.

“The [task force] recommends strategies to address indirect compensation, recognizing that costs such as healthcare and childcare should also be prioritized as critical areas that impact overall teacher pay,” the reports states.

To better train new teachers, including the estimated 40 % who lacked certification or received alternative certification training, the report’s authors found Texas should create a residency program for teachers that would also positively impact student learning. They described the program as a “clinical training/ co-teaching experience in a public PK-12 classroom” that lasts for a year, during which the trainees are paired with experienced teachers. The report also recommended increasing funding for the state’s mentorship program established in 2019.

“The current allotment is limited to $1.65 million per year. Over its first three years, the MPA has supported about 3,300 beginning teachers. In the current cycle, roughly 1,000 beginning teachers are supported. Texas has approximately 30,000 first and second-year teachers statewide annually,” the report states.

The report also stressed an emphasis on improving access to high-quality instructional materials, which would reduce the time teachers spend searching for materials on their own. It also said that, to improve working conditions, school districts and lawmakers should take note of the extra, unpaid hours educators dedicate to the profession to make workloads more manageable for teachers.

“We are not only planning and teaching kids, we are filling out endless paperwork, completing classes to better our teaching, [attending] several meetings a week during our ‘planning time,’ and many more things,” an unnamed elementary school teacher said during a survey administered by the committee. “All that leaves us very little time to actually plan and prep activities for the kids. Admin wants memorable lessons, which I agree, but we are never given the time to plan those.”

The authors recommended that lawmakers fund a study to better understand all the duties performed by teachers and make recommendations on how to streamline those duties.

“Ensuring that the time study results are utilized to adjust schedules and duties so that the job requirements imposed on teachers can be reasonably accomplished in a normal 40-hour work week is essential,” the report notes.

Many teachers also cited as their biggest concerns and causes of stress “student behavior, lack of resources, and ineffective discipline support from administrators as factors contributing to workplace stress”. In response the committee proposed increasing access to counselors and other support for teachers and staff.

In a statement, Abbott said his office and the Texas Education Agency will work with lawmakers to address the concerns and solutions raised in the report.

“[The task force’s] recommendations will help ensure that best practices and resources are available for teacher recruitment and retention. Working with the Texas legislature, 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.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom