House committee members hear update from TEA commissioner, query Morath on educator pay and workplace issues

Mike Morath, seated with his back to room and face to legislators, testifies a table before House committee members.
Education Commissioner Mike Morath provides an update on public education
in Texas before the House Public Education Committee.

On Tuesday, the Texas House Public Education Committee heard an update on public education from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and queried him on issues around educator pay and retention. It’s clear that these issues are a priority for many House representatives. Their questions and Morath’s answers laid the groundwork for legislators to follow-up with other House members and their staff about the findings of “The Lost Decade”, a joint report from Texas AFT and Every Texan on the urgency of legislative intervention to increase school-employee pay and reduce workplace demands.

  • Rep. Gary VanDeaver asked several questions about the teacher shortage and reading academies.
  • Rep. Brad Buckley asked about how to reduce the administrative demands on teachers during the school day—how to “get back to the basics” and “create more time for education.”
  • Rep. Alma Allen advocated for educators in regards to the tremendous demands of Reading Academies; in response, Commissioner Morath suggested that it’s an issue the Legislature should consider addressing.
  • Rep. Mary González asked about the impact of assessments on educators and students.

The commissioner said he was not prepared to answer most of these questions in detail, but he acknowledged their salience and asked members to submit their questions and related data requests to him before the committee’s upcoming “workforce hearing.” The date of this hearing has yet to be announced. Stay tuned for more information about the hearing and opportunities for advocacy.

Morath spent most of his official presentation acknowledging the impact of the pandemic and highlighting learning loss trends. According to Morath, the last 10 years of gains in student achievement were wiped out during the pandemic. Commissioner Morath suggested that the state has already enacted effective interventions that need to be allowed more time for their results to be observed, and that the implementation of legislation addressing these interventions will be taken up in an upcoming interim Public Education Committee hearing. 

After Morath’s update, the committee heard testimony on two interim committee charges to study the impact of immigration on schools and the status of public education investment funds in Russia.

Migrants in Texas public schools is a political wedge issue and there is no pressing action needed by the Legislature. Committee members heard testimony that Russian investments—which eventually will be divested—cost the Permanent School Fund (PSF) nearly $250 million. Officials say they can’t presently divest the funds because Russian investments have been removed from the markets. They also stressed that the loss is less than 1% of the PSF’s investment program.

Texas AFT will continue closely monitoring and participating in interim committee hearings to advance your interests and lay the groundwork for change in the 2023 legislative session.