ATPE State Vice President Stacey Ward tells state senators teachers need more time and appropriate compensation
Date Posted: 5/25/2022
ATPE State Vice President Stacey Ward of Humble spoke to state senators Tuesday on teacher pipeline issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ward testified before the Texas Senate Education Committee at its first interim hearing under newly appointed Chairman Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). Reflecting on her 25 years as an educator, Ward said the current school year has been unlike any other.
The Senate committee met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol in Austin to hearing public and invited testimony on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the educator talent pipeline, school bond efficiency, homestead exemptions for property taxes, and updates on the implementation of House Bill (HB) 1525 and HB 4545 passed in 2021 and HB 3 passed in 2019.
Ward reminded the committee that educators are the most important factor in student achievement and emphasized that the single most valuable resource to educators is time. Over the course of the pandemic, many students have either forgotten or never learned how to learn in a classroom. Ward explained that focusing on these foundation skills has already put an immense strain on educators’ time. Layering mandatory programs such as accelerated instruction under HB 4545 and the Reading Academies training required by HB 3, has pushed many educators to the breaking point.
On the topic of recruitment and retention, Ward emphasized that educators are leaving the profession because they feel undercompensated for their level of training and expertise and for the difficulty of the work required of them.
ATPE also submitted written testimony to the Senate Education Committee, stressing the importance of four key areas when addressing educator attrition: workload, compensation, classroom discipline, and connection. The testimony also highlighted the role educator preparation plays in either mitigating or exacerbating teacher turnover.
Tuesday’s committee hearing began with an update from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who testified that educators received an average salary increase of about $3,800 as a result of HB 3 in 2019. Morath acknowledged that pay continues to be a driving factor in recruitment and retention.
The commissioner said about 4,000 out of 380,000 teachers have so far participated in the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), a merit pay program that TEA has promoted as a solution to stagnant salaries and a vehicle through which some teachers may earn more than $100,000 per year. So far, roughly one percent of educators have taken advantage of the program, which is based in part on students’ STAAR scores. ATPE has warned the program is too reliant on standardized testing and suggested the state instead focus on raising teacher pay across the board and creating more differentiation in pay between novice and veteran educators.
Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) raised the same concerns as ATPE over HB 4545 and the Reading Academies. Menendez said he has received feedback from educators that these programs, though well-intentioned, have contributed to burnout.
Morath acknowledged that it’s been very challenging to find supplemental staff to comply with HB 4545 requirements. The agency has suggested legislators consider clarifying parental opt-out conditions and whether the same tutoring requirements should apply for science and social studies as for reading and math.
The House Public Education Committee also convened Tuesday, but its meeting was cut short after news broke of the severity of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The committee was scheduled to consider an extensive agenda covering mental health, COVID-19 learning loss, and the monitoring of implementation of recent education bills such as HB 3 and the more recent HB 4545. However, legislators ended up hearing testimony only on mental health services in Texas schools, as well as from Commissioner Morath on recent legislation. Chief among concerns expressed by mental health experts was Texas’ high student-to-mental health professional ratios, which far exceed national recommendations.
Chairman Harold Dutton (D-Houston) adjourned the meeting early and on a somber note in light of the Uvalde tragedy. He thanked the witnesses who had traveled to Austin for the meeting but said members should be with their families during such a difficult time. It is unclear when the House Public Education Committee will meet again to hear the rest of its agenda, which was set to include invited testimony from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier on the HB 3 Reading Academies.
The Senate Education Committee did manage to conclude its hearing Tuesday. At the request of Sen. Menendez, committee members observed a moment of silence to acknowledge the school shooting victims.
Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for coverage of additional hearings on interim charges before the 88th Texas Legislature meets in January 2023.
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