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The Texas House Public Education Committee and Higher Education Committee held a joint hearing Tuesday, September 20, to address the following interim charge:

Evaluate the impact of the pandemic on the state’s teacher workforce, and current practices to improve the recruitment, preparation, and retention of high-quality educators. Explore the impact of the educator preparation program regulatory environment. Make recommendations to improve educator recruitment, retention, and preparation throughout the state.

Several TASA members were invited to testify at the hearing. Dr. Roosevelt Nivens, Lamar CISD superintendent and TASA Advocacy Committee chair, testified on behalf of LCISD and TASA. Nivens said his district was in Fort Bend County and was expected to double in size over the next 10 years. He noted that with current attrition rates, LCISD would need to staff more than 700 teachers each year moving forward. Nivens described his district’s efforts to retain teachers, including providing teachers two “mental health” days per year and a collaboration with the University of Houston–Victoria that allows LCISD teachers to earn master’s degrees without having to travel and with reduced tuition.

Danny Massey, Brazosport ISD superintendent, and Dr. Vincent Solis, president of Brazosport College, shared information about their successful “grow your own” partnership.

Dr. Scott Muri, Ector County ISD superintendent, described the comprehensive strategy ECISD has implemented to reduce teacher vacancy rates from 18 percent to 1 percent. Recommendations Muri made for the state’s consideration included: increasing the basic allotment to allow teacher pay increases; establishing a Principal Incentive Allotment like the Teacher Incentive Allotment; providing full funding for a teacher candidate residency program; and incentivizing the collaboration between districts and universities to create teacher pipelines.

Dave Lewis, Rochelle ISD superintendent, told the committee that RISD is a rural district with 208 students and 21 teachers, and that the district’s transition to a four-day school week was successful and helped as a recruiting strategy. He said that as a rural district, RISD was at a disadvantage with the Teacher Incentive Allotment because, after investing hundreds of hours to implement the program and invest in their teachers, RISD could still not compete with other districts that can recruit teachers with higher salaries because of their Chapter 313 agreements.

Invited testimony also included representatives of education research institutes, higher education, and JoLisa Hoover, Raise Your Hand Texas’ teacher specialist, who discussed why the teacher shortage is a national crisis not limited to Texas.

Representatives of TEA, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also provided testimony, explaining the roles of their agencies in assisting with the teacher shortage. See TEA’s slide deck. One concern shared was that teachers who go through alternative certification programs leave the profession at a much higher rate than those who go through traditional university-based preparation programs.

Texas public university and alternative certification representatives were also invited to testify about the preparation of high-quality teachers. In response to a question from Rep. Gary VanDeaver about the higher education perspective of the edTPA, which SBEC plans to adopt for use as a teacher certification exam, Dr. Mike O’Malley, dean of the College of Education at Texas State University, noted issues such as the high cost. (For rural districts that need teachers with multiple certifications, the cost could be almost $900 in addition to the cost of a university degree program, plus there would be the interruption of the learning experience for teacher candidates.)

O’Malley said that candidates in traditional preparation programs participate in deeply embedded field work during their semester-long student teaching experience and stressed that because most Texas teachers now come through alternative preparation programs, which are less expensive and do not require as much field experience, most would still enter the classroom day one without having participated in or benefited from the edTPA portfolio experience.

Invited testimony also included representatives of teacher organizations including the Texas State Teachers Association, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Association of Texas Professional Educators, as well as the Teacher Retirement System and several teacher practitioners.