Gov. Greg Abbott recently directed the Texas Education Agency to create a task force to address teacher shortages in school districts across the state.
“This task force should work diligently to ensure that best practices and resources for recruitment and retention are provided to districts to ensure the learning environment of Texas students is not interrupted by the absence of a qualified teacher,” the governor said in a statement.
The number of annually certified teachers has declined since at least 2015, according to TEA data, from 26,158 in 2015-16 to 16,266 in 2020-21.
As the number of certified teachers has decreased, the number of teachers who have left their job (employee attrition) has remained constant since 2006, with the state bleeding a little more than 10 percent of their workforce each year. That includes new hires, who have also left at around the same rate.
Clay Robison, a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association said the leading causes of teacher shortages is low pay, the pandemic, and attacks on educators by the state legislature.
“Even before the pandemic, this was a problem,” Robison said of teacher pay.
The latest National Education Association report on teacher salaries shows public school teachers in Texas earned an average salary of $57,090 in 2019-20, ranking 27th in the country for teacher pay and $7,043 less than the national average.
“The shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic, teachers were concerned about their health as anybody else was,” Robison said. “Their situation was made worse by the governor, primarily his refusal to allow school districts to issue mask mandates, which offered protection that the CDC recommended.”
Robison said the governor also made the jobs of teachers more difficult by supporting politically motivated attacks on teachers, such as claiming there were issues with “pornography” in school (books about women, LGBTQ and Black people), backing book bans and misleading parents about Critical Race Theory.
“The audience was his rightwing base in the Republican primary, now he’s been renominated and he wants to talk nice about education again. Well, we welcome that,” Robison said.
In a statement to the Signal, Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said the state legislature has done nothing to address the teacher shortage. Capo said HB 3, a bill passed in 2019 that Abbott has touted as an answer to the teacher shortage, is about property tax reform, not public education funding.
“HB 3 hasn’t done anything to address the teacher shortage, and Abbott knows it, so he creates a task force instead,” Capo said. “We’re not against bringing together bright minds to help push for what we already know is needed — respecting educators by providing a real pay increase, reducing unrealistic workloads, and eliminating unnecessary, excessive paperwork.”
Capo said that if Abbott really wanted to do something to help schools, he would cancel the STAAR test this spring. He said the test would only add more stress to an already chaotic and exhausting campus schedule.
“It’s not just a matter of finding a warm body to put in each classroom,” Capo said. “The students suffer when you have underpaid, overworked teachers and jam-packed classrooms. Teachers can only be stretched so thin before they break.”
“It’s impossible to give kids the focus and attention they need when the system is breaking the very people expected to inspire our kids to achieve,” Capo said.
Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators applauded the governor’s directive and hoped it would lead to collaboration between education leaders at the state and district levels, something Holmes said has been missing too often in the past several years.
“These staffing shortages are a lingering effect of not only the pandemic but also new burdens placed on districts during the recent legislative session,” Holmes said referring to the recently passed HB 4545, a bill establishing new requirements for accelerated instruction for students who do not pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR test).
Educator groups have criticized the legislation for making the standardized test play an even larger role in determining school funding.
“We urge TEA to include stakeholders such as ATPE on this task force to ensure the voices of educators on the front lines are heard,” Holmes said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org