Unpacking the Legislature: Educator Recruitment

In August 2022, leaders from AFT, Texas AFT, and several local AFT unions hosted a roundtable discussion with Houston area superintendents, administrators, and experts (including Rep. Alma Allen) on solutions to the current staffing crisis. Practical solutions discussed included “grow your own” educator certification programs.

As we trudge along in the summer and the second special session, it may be hard to recall all the way back in February when the final report of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force was released. We wrote extensively about the report in a series of articles in March, one of which covered training and support for educators.

Specifically, the report outlined some proposals for the Legislature to address regarding the teacher pipeline and support for pre-service and novice teachers: grow your own initiatives, teacher residencies, and the teacher mentor program. 

The Legislature failed to deliver on any of these stated priorities.

Unpacking the Legislature

Read our other breakdowns of public education issues:

School Funding
School Employee Pay
School Safety
Educator Retirement
Higher Education

What Passed … or Didn’t

One of the TVTF report’s recommendations regarding teacher recruitment is one we have long supported: “grow your own” pathways that foster new teachers from within a community. Yet this major recommendation from the task force was largely ignored in proposed legislation.

Instead of looking for meaningful ways to attract and train qualified educators, lawmakers chose to further reduce the qualifications for individuals seeking to enter the profession:

  • HB 621 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) creates a temporary certification for military service members and first responders to teach career and technology applications courses without first obtaining a college degree. Thanks to advocacy efforts, the final bill was much more limited in scope than originally filed. Interestingly, the bill requires that a mentor be assigned to a teacher who enters the classroom under this statute.
  • HB 2729 by Rep. Cody Harris (R-Hillsboro) states that teachers in pre-kindergarten partnerships will no longer have to be certified or hold a bachelor’s degree. At minimum, they need to be 18 years old with minimal training to serve as pre-K teachers. Supervisors must still be fully certified. The provisions of the bill expire September 2029.
  • SB 544 by Sen. César Blanco (D-El Paso) allows qualified Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) instructors to bypass an educator preparation program. Instead, the instructor would only have to take the necessary certification exams to ensure they are prepared to enter a K-12 classroom. The CCAF instructor must hold at least a bachelor’s degree, an appropriate certificate or credential, and have taught at least two full-time semesters.
  • SB 763 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) allows a school district or charter school to employ or accept the volunteer services of a chaplain. Under this law, chaplains would not have to be certified by the state; instead, the only requirements they would need to meet are the lack of a criminal history, as required for other school volunteers, and not be a convicted sex offender. The bill allows a chaplain to be compensated using funds from the school safety allotment.
  • SB 798 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) states that in order to be certified as a school counselor, a candidate no longer has to have experience as a classroom teacher. This will supposedly help those who were qualified in other states to earn the equivalent certification in Texas.

One good bill that surprised us by making it through the legislative gauntlet is HB 4363 by Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin). The bill creates a new scholarship program providing $12,000 per year for a student pursuing a degree at a Texas higher education institution and educator preparation program. Candidates who demonstrate financial need, are first-generation college students, and agree to teach in a critical shortage area or in a district whose majority of students are economically disadvantaged will be prioritized for selection. The program’s aim is to significantly reduce the cost to enter the teaching profession.

Other components that were part of the task force recommendations that failed to pass the finish line were teacher residencies and an expansion of the mentor program allotment. 

Texas AFT has previously advocated for a dramatic increase in funding for the educational aide exemption program, an innovative, though underfunded “grow your own” program that could help address the teacher shortage. Administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the program allows teacher aides to enter a state university tuition-free in exchange for teaching in a critical shortage area such as special education. During budget negotiations, amendments were offered that would have increased funding to this proven program, but none passed into the final budget.

House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 9 contained roughly similar proposals for addressing teacher residencies. Both bills would have allowed qualified educator preparation programs (EPPs) to form partnerships with districts or charter schools to provide a residency pathway to educator certification. The bill imagined a paid, year-long program for a “resident” to receive field-based experience working with mentor teachers in a pre-K-12 setting, gradually increasing the amount of time a resident spent engaging in instructional responsibilities, including observation, co-teaching, and lead-teaching responsibilities. Significant funding was attached to the program, but the program would have required additional investment from the EPP and district. 

HB 11 and SB 9 also would have created a more substantial allotment for a new teacher mentorship program. A school district who qualified for the program could have received $2,000 for each classroom teacher with less than two years of experience who participates in a mentoring program. This was limited to no more than 40 teachers during a school year per qualifying district.

Why It Happened

HB 11 and SB 9 were another pair of similar bills that passed over to opposing chambers and borrowed from each other in an attempt to reach final passage. After both bills became engrossed (passed their respective chambers), SB 9 was seen as the more viable bill and HB 11 was allowed to die in committee. After passing from the House committee, SB 9 no longer contained the provision to allow TEA to create its own liability insurance for teachers (aimed directly at weakening educator groups), which was a no-go for the Senate. While there were a few good provisions in these bills, most education advocates were not sorry to see them die for lack of consensus.

It’s unclear why the Legislature did not prioritize teacher recruitment in any meaningful way. What is clear from statewide data is that not only are we not addressing the exodus of Texas educators from the profession, but we are also not replacing them with fully qualified and trained educators. Instead, Texas will continue to rely on a patchwork of fast-track preparation programs and exceptions to certification requirements (i.e. district of innovation) to bring new teachers into the classroom. We know these alternatively certified and uncertified teachers leave the profession at higher rates than traditionally trained educators, but little to nothing is being done to inform or incentivize our high school graduates or college students to become teachers.

What Legislators Are Saying

Unsurprisingly, no one (except the lawmakers themselves) are cheering about the bills that did pass. This is because they neither individually nor collectively address the fundamental problem of recruiting individuals into the profession. 

What to Expect Next

We wrote last week about the SJR 1 amendment by Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) that would provide Texas teachers with effectively a two-time bonus over the next biennium based on the size of the school district. This proposal is roughly identical to an allotment that was included in SB 9, so there still is some appetite in the Capitol to address educator priorities. 

While we don’t yet know what to expect from another anticipated special session related to education, HB 11 and SB 9 were both priority bills that failed. Regardless of the governor’s official call for items to address, it is a safe bet to assume that we will see one or both of these bills return for another crack at the process.