AUSTIN (KXAN) – A Texas task force of more than 40 teachers and administrators recommended Friday that school districts provide or expand health insurance plans to include clinical mental health services at no cost to teachers.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Education Agency in March 2022 to create a task force – and look for solutions to the steep increase in teachers in the state quitting.
On Friday, the group released more than 20 recommendations to districts, lawmakers, and the TEA to help keep and retain teachers.
The report cited a CDC Foundation study where nearly a third of teachers nationwide reported symptoms related to depression and anxiety.
“I love being an educator and even on my best days it is difficult for me to stay being an educator because I am constantly worried about whether I can support my family,” Mesquite ISD English Teacher Hayden Cepak said.
A KXAN analysis in August of exit forms from Texas teachers found several where educators attributed their resignation to mental health, including one Austin Independent School District speech-language pathologist who said she felt “mentally beat up,” adding the “workload is not realistic.”
The task force recommended school systems and the Teacher Retirement System provide or expand access to teacher well-being support as a part of their healthcare insurance, including access to tele-mental health services and Employee Assistance Programs for no cost.
“I have spent over $3,000 per year out of pocket to see a therapist,” one elementary school teacher quoted in the task force’s input survey said.
A survey done by the task force also found “unsustainable workloads are negatively impacting teachers and are the number one issue cited by those who recently left the profession.”
Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators said solutions include more than increasing access to healthcare.
“If we have a dedicated staffer overseeing mental health on a campus, it means that the teachers — who are not trained in mental health providers — are not trying to oversee those students’ mental health,” Exter said.
New laws have also placed an additional burden on teachers across the state, including one measure that required school districts to tutor students who failed or didn’t take the STAAR exam during the pandemic.
The tutoring groups could be no larger than three students at a time and the work, in many school districts, fell to teachers on top of their everyday workload.
“It’s extremely difficult. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that we have given them the resources that don’t require them to work after hours and on nights and weekends,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said.
The Texas Classroom Teacher Association said in a statement the recommendations from the task force lacked “tangible actions.”
“I think what is needed, again, is a stronger and more direct sort of strategy that would relieve teachers of those additional duties and in our view, that is going to require an investment, again, and additional personnel that can take those duties off of teachers and refocusing on protecting teachers and instructional time,” Holly Eaton, TCTA’s director of professional development and advocacy said.