AUSTIN (KXAN) – While Texas public schools start the year with vacancies and permanent substitutes, the group charged with addressing the state’s teacher shortage met again, this time to begin crafting recommendations for lawmakers.

The House Committee on Public Education is inviting the Teacher Vacancy Task Force‘s chair, Dallas ISD teacher Josue Torres, to speak before lawmakers next month, according to the committee.

“My understanding is that we will have representatives at the public education hearings and then if we have recommendations that are ready to go, that we will release those or at least the topic of those as they are ready,” task force member and Highland Park ISD teacher Jean Streepy said.

“We will not wait till March if we actually have something ready to go before then even if it’s on a certain topic,” Streepy added.

Already, the task force has split into four working groups, including two focused on educator preparation programs and compensation. The group is set to release its final list of recommendations to lawmakers, the Texas Education Agency, and local school districts in February.

“Our next step, and we got partway there this time, is to then figure out who can make that change,” Streepy said. “The recommendations, I think, that are coming out of here are thoughtful and supported and I hope that the people coming behind us, the legislature and our state boards and our districts and in our state will come along beside us and recognize that those are well-thought-out recommendations and come to the table with us and help make that happen for our teachers.

Even as the task force works to come up with recommendations, school districts in the state are still working to fill vacancies in the first weeks of school.

In Central Texas, Hays CISD started the school year with 19 long-term substitute teachers. Austin ISD still had more than 200 teacher openings on the first day of school – down from the more than 1,000 vacancies the district had at the start of summer.

KXAN Investigators obtained exit forms from hundreds of Austin ISD teachers who quit their jobs in the middle of the school year since the pandemic began, and similar data from several other districts across the state, revealing how inflation, stagnant salaries and last-minute legislative mandates led to state-wide teacher shortages. 

“The rate of inflation and compared to the rise in salaries, and, you know, our teachers, our teachers deserve to be able to pay their mortgages and feed their families and enjoy their time. They cannot go home every night, with a pile of schoolwork to do when they have their own families at home,” Streepy said.

Presentations obtained by KXAN show during the task forces’ latest meeting, it also discussed multiple ideas for staffing schools in the future, including creating positions that would take on duties traditionally handled by teachers like grading papers and lesson planning.

The committee is set to meet again in October.