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A Texas task force on school staffing shortages is adding more teachers after facing criticism

Stella M. Chavez

Initially, the Texas Education Agency’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force only included two teachers. Now the agency is adding another 24 public school teachers.

A new task force aimed at helping address the chronic teacher shortage in Texas is nearly doubling in size. The Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday it was adding 24 public school teachers to the Teacher Vacancy Task Force. The TEA said in a news release it was expanding the group in order to “ensure equal representation of teachers and school system administrators.”

The TEA formed the task force at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. Ina letter last week, Abbott directed Texas commissioner of educationMike Morath to set up the group to investigate the challenges teacher vacancies are causing for school districts, explore best practices to address the shortage, and research proposals to attract and retain teachers.

At first, the group had28 members, mostly made up of school superintendents and other school administrators. Only two teachers were included, drawing backlash from some officials andteacher groups, including the Texas State Teachers Association.

“We are glad that the governor and commissioner saw fit to appoint two teachers to the task force, but we are disappointed that a larger number was not added to a group of twenty‐eight people,” said TSTA President Ovidia Molina in a statement at the time. “Who knows better about why there is a teacher shortage than real experts, the teachers themselves?”

The TEA says the group decided to include more teachers after its first meeting.

“It is imperative that we include the insights and recommendations of current classroom teachers as the task force works to identify strong recommendations that can address the staffing shortages facing school systems across Texas”, said Morath, in a statement. “This expansion strengthens the Task Force and includes more perspectives as we work to find far-reaching solutions to these challenges.”

The task force will also now be chaired by a public school teacher. Josue Torres, who teaches math at Dallas ISD, said he was honored to lead the group.

“The reason I got into education is because I believe that a student’s zip code shouldn’t determine his or her fate, and this Task Force has the ability to recommend the needed changes and innovative solutions necessary to ensure all Texas students have access to the high-quality educators they deserve,” Torres said in a statement.

Still, TSTA President Molina told the Texas Newsroom that Torres’ appointment to chair the task force seems premature, since they still don’t know the whole makeup of the group.

“He [Abbott] should have actually waited to see who was on the task force to see who could really be the head of the task force, and not sort of as an afterthought say, ‘Oh, the teachers aren’t happy with the task force because we don’t have but two educators in there, so let me just add some more to make them happy’ because he’s not thinking about the teachers,” said Molina. “He’s thinking about November.”

Abbott—a Republican who is running for re-election— alsofaced criticism from Beto O’ Rourke. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate said instead of a task force, Texas needs to improve pay and benefits for teachers.

Once all the members of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force are in place, the group is expected to form several workgroups to tackle specific challenges facing Texas schools.