By Trista Bishop Watt, Manager of Policy
The 88th Texas Legislative session is moving fast and education has been a hot topic from the get go. Issues like school choice programs and property tax relief have frequented the newsstands and airwaves. While those topics are certainly important, we want to take a moment to highlight a few bills that might be flying a bit more under the radar in the news cycle.
In 2022, the Teacher Vacancy Task Force was established to evaluate the challenges surrounding teacher recruitment and retention in Texas. The Task Force returned their findings in February 2023 to guide legislators in addressing the teacher shortage crisis. They highlighted needs in three basic buckets: compensation, training and support, and working conditions. Specific recommendations included increasing overall and strategic compensation for highly effective educators, establishing a teacher residency pathway, and expanding access to high-quality instructional materials.
Legislators have taken these recommendations to heart. In both the House and Senate chambers, bills have been filed to incentivize adoption of high-quality instructional materials and better support our teachers through increased compensation and strong preparation programs.
High-Quality Instructional Materials
The Texas Education Agency found that only 19% of school materials are grade-level appropriate in reading, which means students do not have access to the resources they need to succeed. In Houston, only 44% of students are meeting standards in reading by 3rd grade, which is even below the state average of 52%.
Moreover, our teachers are spending time that could be dedicated to instruction searching for materials to use in their lessons. Teachers report spending up to 250 hours per year selecting instructional materials, leading to burnout.
HB 1605 and SB 2565 propose a better prospect for teachers and students. Both bills outline a vetting process for instructional materials that considers quality and grade-level appropriateness. School districts have the discretion to and are incentivized to adopt high-quality materials with additional funding to implement the new curriculum.
Not only will these changes increase access to effective instruction for students, they will also greatly reduce the burden on our teachers, who would then have the time and flexibility to customize the provided materials to meet their students’ needs. This approach works. The TEA has piloted a program that puts high-quality instructional materials in classrooms with great success. By swapping curricula alone, these districts improved grade-appropriate assignments by 39%.
Currently HB 1605 and SB 2565 have bipartisan support with nearly 40 authors signed on between the two bills. Right now, both bills have passed through the committee stage of the legislative process. The Senate approved SB 2565 and the bill is heading to the House for consideration, while HB 1605 is awaiting a floor vote.
A Strong Pipeline for Effective Educators
HB 11 and SB 9 represent the bulk of the effort this legislative session to address the concerns identified by the Teacher Vacancy Task Force and echoed around the state through sweeping reforms. Although the bills are not identical, they do signal the clear intent of the Texas Legislature to prioritize teachers and thereby student learning.
The comprehensive plans outlined in both bills:
- establish and incentivize a state-supported teacher residency pathway, where future educators are able to receive paid on-the-job training with a mentor teacher in pursuit of their teaching certification;
- increase the commitment to reward and retain highly-effective educators by expanding the Teacher Incentive Allotment with 90% of funds allocated going directly to teacher salaries;
- require the Texas Education Agency to provide technical support to school districts for strategic staffing and strengthening teacher pipelines; and
- provide quality of life improvements for educators and future educators, including making children of teachers eligible for pre-K, increasing funding for mentorship opportunities, and support for certification costs (waivers in HB 11 and reimbursement for bilingual and special education certification in SB 9).
Among other small differences, where the two bills diverge most is with base teacher compensation. The Texas House of Representatives relies on HB 100, a substantial school finance bill, to cover base salary increases. HB 100 proposes a tiered approach by increasing formulas for teacher compensation based on experience and certification level. Further, HB 100 would increase the basic allotment of funding given to school districts, 50% of which would be directly for increasing teacher, counselor, nurse, and librarian salaries.
Alternatively, SB 9 proposes flat salary increases ($2,000 for large school districts and $6,000 for small districts) for teachers next school year. Another important area to note, SB 9 includes a student discipline provision that would allow teachers to remove students from class for only one incident of problematic behavior rather than a series of documented occurrences.
HB 11 and SB 9 have both been voted out of their committees. Both bills have been approved by their chambers and SB 9 has already been referred to the House Public Education Committee.
Texas Legislators are busy making decisions that will impact Texas students and public education throughout our state. Session is scheduled to run through May 29, 2023. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, visit our policy page, and follow us on social media for updates and action items for all things public education this legislative session.