AUSTIN (KXAN) — High stress, low pay and crumbling schools are forcing teachers out of the classroom at a higher rate than ever before.

The Texas Education Agency announced this week it created the Teacher Vacancy Task Force to help address staffing challenges at public schools. KXAN spoke with Central Texas teachers who want to ensure their voice is heard in the process.

With almost 20 years of teaching experience, Stephanie Stoebe hopes voices like hers will be heard when it comes to teacher recruitment and retention.

Out of the 28 members on TEA’s task force, two are teachers.

“I was kind of disappointed when I saw that, because more than the superintendent, the teachers know about the reality of the classroom. I would like to see more teachers’ voices being brought to the table,” Stoebe said.

According to the agency, it plans to have a designated teacher panel in future task force meetings and will gather direct feedback from teachers.

“Teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student outcomes,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “The Teacher Vacancy Task Force will further ensure our ability to provide the best guidance, support and resources to help schools find and retain the teachers they need for all their students.” 

The task force will explore opportunities for certification, placement and hiring flexibilities.

Ben Sterling, teacher and president of Education Round Rock, the teacher’s union in the Round Rock Independent School District, is concerned the state could accelerate certification processes or waive some requirements to help bring more teachers in quickly.

“You’re bringing in people with less experience, and you’ve lowered the standard to get them there to fill positions that were left by the top of their field,” Sterling explained.

In a poll from the Texas American Federation of Teachers, 66% of Texas educators surveyed said they’ve recently considered leaving their profession due to low pay and increasing workload.

“The most important thing here is that the answer to the problem of teachers leaving this industry is not going to be to rush to bring in more unskilled labor. The answer to this question is to retain those skilled teachers and to give them an impetus to not only to remain, but to be the mentors we need for the teachers who are coming in,” Sterling said.

Some teachers KXAN spoke to want the focus on more planning time and the increasing workload that’s linked to legislation like HB 4545, which can require additional instructional hours.

KXAN also spoke to the Association of Texas Professional Educator (ATPE). The group hopes teacher morale is at the center of the conversation.

“We really need to look at more of these morale issues and underlying issues such as pay and benefits and just the respect that our teachers are getting in the classroom,” Jennifer J. Mitchell, ATPE’s governmental relations director said.

According to TEA, the task force will meet every other month for one year.