AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Many Texas school districts face a growing challenge when it comes to recruiting and keeping teachers. Now, a long-anticipated report aims to find solutions to that problem.

The report comes from the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force. That’s a group of 45 Texas teachers and administrators Gov. Greg Abbott ordered to take on the growing teacher shortage in Texas.

“This is not a new trend. This has been a 30-year trend, and this is not specific to Texas. This is education in the United States,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in an exclusive television interview with KXAN.

The report recommends lawmakers increase the amount of per-pupil funding allocated to school districts in the state – which hasn’t been done since 2019 and require school systems to spend a larger percentage of that money on teacher compensation.

Right now, Texas districts are required to pay new teachers at least $33,660 – although most school districts in the state pay much more. It could take, by law, more than 20 years for an educator to make more than $54,000 in Texas.

The task force is recommending lawmakers raise the minimum salary schedule to help small, rural school districts that frequently pay at or above the minimum – and change it to reward effective teachers.  

It is also recommending districts provide financial incentives and help pay for required exam costs for special education and bilingual teachers – two areas experiencing critical staffing shortages across the state.

“It involves compensation. It involves issues related to work-life balance and working conditions, generally, the kind of training and support that we offer,” Morath said. “It is critical for us to get this right and it is very difficult to get right.”

The report also highlights issues with the state’s teacher retirement system saying on average Texas school districts contribute $330 to healthcare. Significantly lower than the $827 calculated monthly average employer contribution in Texas.

Task force members recommended the legislature increase the state’s contribution to health care premiums for current – and retired teachers.

According to Morath, in the last several decades the average experience of Texas teachers has significantly decreased.

“The teacher that you were most likely to run into in 1985 had 10 years of experience,” Morath said. “For about the last decade, the teacher that you’re most likely to run into is in his or her first year.”

The report quoted one Texas superintendent in the report who said, “We are faced with the economic struggles that many staff face and the new challenges to their health that can make a teacher prospect reconsider their decision.”

The task force said state lawmakers created a challenge for local school districts to hire back retired teachers when it passed a law requiring school systems to bear the costs of pensions and healthcare surcharges.

It is asking the legislature to temporarily help districts pay the additional costs of hiring retirees until the rate of teachers leaving the professions is more manageable.

“The number one priority that we have operated under for the last six or seven years is the priority of recruit support retain teachers and principals,” Morath said. “We know that teachers are the single most important in-school factor that impacts student outcomes, and we have to be pretty relentless in our efforts to try to support them.”

One big issue at the Legislature this session is the push to let parents use public funding to pay for private schooling. Opponents of the idea point to the likelihood that school choice will lead to funding cuts for public schools. But in our interview, Morath had an optimistic take.

“Over the last 10 years, per pupil spending in the state of Texas on public education and total spending in Texas on public education has increased pretty significantly every single year. And I don’t have any reason to think that that trend is going to change in the near in the near future,” Morath said.