AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Texas’ population continues to soar, so, too has its non-English speaking student population. But that spike, paired with an ongoing exodus of teachers from the industry, has led to some students not receiving the level of individualized teaching they need.
At Austin ISD, officials are seeking 60 candidates to fulfill open bilingual teaching roles throughout the district. Currently, there are 690 full-time bilingual teaching employees, meaning over 8% of bilingual positions remain unfulfilled.
Any open bilingual teaching position has adverse impacts on both the students and fellow teachers themselves, said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.
On the student level, he said that means less one-on-one time and the risk of developmental delays in their learning.
“If we don’t have access to appropriate professionals that have the bilingual services that many of our kids need, oftentimes, it means they’re going to have a lag in their academic development until they’re able to acclimate to that second language or develop those second language skills,” he said.
Shortages in bilingual teachers have persisted since 1990, but were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reporting from the Texas Tribune.
As of last February, the Texas Education Agency reported more than one million English learners, with Hispanic and Latino residents accounting for more than the state’s student population.
That lack of available bilingual teaching candidates reflects in the form of large classroom sizes as more students are assigned to less teachers, Capo said. Additionally, he said the means of duplicating teaching materials in multiple languages takes substantially more time than only preparing them in English alone.
In turn, more work on individual teachers can accelerate other issues already encroaching on industry professionals, including lower pay and burnout.
Some Texas lawmakers are trying to ease the financial burden many teachers face. State Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, submitted legislation in January proposing a $15,000 pay raise for Texas teachers. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Public Education and didn’t advance.
Capo advocated for increasing bilingual teacher stipends to attract talent, as well as capping classroom sizes for all bilingual classrooms at an elementary school level.
“We know that it’s going to be even more important hat we have those manageable class sizes in these particular programs, where there’s a significantly additional need for student interaction,” he said.
For teachers who have left the profession, Capo said now is a critical time to get competitive with bilingual teacher stipends and other benefits. As Texas’ racial and ethnic demographics continue to evolve and more non-English-speaking residents call the Lone Star State home, private sector companies are also seeking out bilingual talent.
“We’re having to compete from both sides, not only with increasing student populations that need and, quite frankly, deserve bilingual services, but with a growing need in industries outside of education,” he said. “Those things are going to both continue to skyrocket as well move forward into the future.”