Gov. Greg Abbott is directing the Texas Education Agency to set up a task force to investigate teacher shortages.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – Gov. Greg Abbott has directed the Texas Education Agency to create a task force to study the state’s teacher shortage problem.

In a letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath on Monday, Abbott said the task force should investigate why these bottlenecks exist, recommend policy changes to the state board of education, and consider more flexibility in the teacher certification process.

“This task force should work diligently to ensure districts are provided with best practices and resources for recruitment and retention to ensure that the learning environment of Texas students is not disrupted by the lack of a qualified teacher,” Abbott said .

The pandemic has exacerbated teacher shortages in the country. The postponement of mask requirements and the closure and then reopening of schools have taken a toll on teachers. At the same time, schools have become the focus of state culture wars, and teachers are caught in the crossfire.

As of last summer, school districts were reporting an increasing number of teaching vacancies. The Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest district, had more than 700 vacancies last summer.

RELATED: More than 20,000 students in HISD classes without a certified teacher, 13 investigations find

School districts have had to close because both full-time and substitute teachers were absent due to COVID-19. In some cases, districts asked parents to supervise classrooms.

In a Charles Butt Foundation survey of 919 Texas teachers last year, 68% said they were seriously considering quitting the profession in 2021, up 10 percentage points from the previous year.

In the same survey, teachers said they felt undervalued and underpaid. The average salary for teachers did not increase between 2010 and 2019; it instead went from $55,433 to $54,192, according to a recent report from the University of Houston.

In 2019, Texas lawmakers mandated pay rises for teachers in a $11.6 billion overhaul of public school funding. The bill also included a performance enhancement scheme aimed at helping rural and needy school districts attract talent. On rare occasions, the program rewards the top-rated educators in Texas with hefty pay increases that can escalate into six figures.

In February, a survey of 3,800 of its members by the Texas American Federation of Teachers found that 66% of educators across Texas said they had recently considered leaving their job.

But the state’s teacher shortage existed before the pandemic hit. From 2010 to 2019, the number of originally certified teachers declined by about 20%, according to the University of Houston report. The report also showed that teachers are least likely to remain in the profession from year one to sophomore.

Adding to the pandemic, Texas teachers are now required to obey Senate Bill 3, a new law restricting the way teachers talk about race and slavery in the classroom. Abbott pushed for the 2021 regular legislature and special sessions thereafter to scrap “critical race theory.”

The result in the schools was confusion. A North Texas administrator told teachers they needed to present material that took an “opposite” view of the Holocaust.

The law never mentions critical race theory, and educators say it’s a framework not taught in Texas public schools. Critical Race Theory examines why racism is not limited to individuals. Instead, the theory claims that bias is something embedded in politics and legal systems.

Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said Abbott and other lawmakers made teachers feel like they were breaking the law by teaching the truth about race and racism. Abbott needs to make sure teachers feel heard and respected, he said.

At this point it was unclear who would be on the task force.

Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said in a statement that he hopes his organization will be included on the task force as it would ensure educators’ voices are heard.

“We hope the task force will lead to collaboration between state and district education leaders — something that has been lacking all too often in recent years,” Holmes said.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All rights reserved. Gov. Greg Abbott is directing the Texas Education Agency to set up a task force to investigate teacher shortages.

Dais Johnston

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