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Texas group says governor’s new task force on school staffing shortages must include teachers

kindergarten teacher Amber Ximenz prepares her classroom at Southside Independent School District, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in San Antonio.
Eric Gay
Amber Ximenz prepares her classroom at Southside Independent School District, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in San Antonio.

Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to the The Texas Education Agency Monday, directing it to set up a task force of experts and stakeholders to work on solutions to ending an ongoing shortage of public school teachers.

Gov. Greg Abbott is directing the Texas Education Agency to set up a task force to help address a years-long teacher shortage in the state that has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group will look at the root causes of staffing shortages and consider policy changes to attract and retain educators.

“This task force should investigate the challenges teacher vacancies are causing for school districts, explore best practices for addressing this shortage, and research the possibility for flexibility of certification, placement, and hiring,” wrote Gov. Abbott in his request to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

Texas State Teachers Association spokesperson, Clay Robison, said he welcomes the governor’s new initiative to address a problem that’s existed for many years.

“And a lot of that is turnover in beginning teachers,” Robison said. “Even before the pandemic, you take any given year you have X number of teachers who start their careers in Texas, within five years, half of them are gone because the pay is just not keeping up” he said.

Robison said it is important for classroom teachers to be included on the task force.

“I'm not talking about private school consultants; I'm not talking about charter school operators; I'm talking about teachers, and [Governor Abbott] actually needs to listen to the teachers."

Robison added that increasing teacher pay would be the most obvious and effective way to solve Texas' teacher shortage. A National Education Association report from April 2021 found teacher pay in Texas was roughly $7,000 dollars below the U.S. average.

Robison accused Abbott of exacerbating the teacher shortage during the pandemic by banning school districts from requiring face coverings.

“The governor couldn’t see fit to improve the safety of teachers and students in classrooms by allowing schools to issue mask mandates,” he said.

Abbott and fellow Texas Republicans are also driving away teachers for political gain, said Robison, by perpetuating misleading claims about schools exposing students to inappropriate curricula and materials.

“He cannot keep attacking teachers,” said Robison. “He cannot keep leveling these unfounded accusations about pornography in public schools. He cannot continue to threaten to ban books, particularly books dealing with race relations and LGBTQ issues – books dealing with diversity.”

The TEA task force will eventually issue recommendations for regulatory and other policy changes at the agency to help address the teacher shortage.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.