AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As a new school year begins, Texas is reeling from a record number of teacher resignations. While leaders and districts look for solutions to combat recruitment and retention challenges, some worry classrooms may continue to be left without qualified educators.

But what’s really behind the shortage?

To find out, our team obtained thousands of exit surveys detailing why teachers left and the impact it has on students. Responses revealed how inflation, stagnant salaries and last-minute legislative mandates led to state-wide teacher shortages.

Hundreds of students and families crowded into the Toney Burger Center on June 2 for the McCallum High School graduation. Only one other person, besides herself, knew what valedictorian Alysa Bijl-Spiro was about to do.

During that school year, three of Bijl-Spiro’s favorite teachers quit. The superintendent of Austin Independent School District sat right behind her as she approached the podium and pulled out an unapproved version of her speech.

The auditorium erupted with applause as she raised her voice and said, “Teachers are the heart and soul of schools and it’s time that the state and district start treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Nikki Northcutt, Bijl-Spiro’s English teacher at McCallum, who resigned at the end of that school year, said she cried as she listened to the speech in her car.

“It was so good,” Northcutt said. “To hear it come from her was just really powerful.”

McCallum is considered by parents, students — and teachers — as a haven for educators. Even teachers who have resigned in recent years speak highly of the community of students and parents at the fine arts academy. But even it was not immune to the mass exodus impacting Texas schools.

During the 2021-22 school year, records show seven McCallum teachers quit in the middle of the year. The entire district saw more than 1,000 educators retire or resign during that time: 30% more than the previous school year.

The surge in Austin ISD resignations mirrors the rise in teachers leaving across Texas.

Read the full investigation. Go directly to each chapter in this investigation by using the links below:

This special edition of “State of Texas” showcases KXAN’s “The Exit: Teachers Leave. Students Suffer.” investigative series. Investigative Reporter Kelly Wiley, Digital Data Reporter Christopher Adams, Investigative Photographer Richie Bowes, Graphic Artist Rachel Garza, Graphic Artist Aileen Hernandez, Director of Investigations & Innovation Josh Hinkle, Lead Editor Eric Lefenfeld, Investigative Photographer Chris Nelson, Digital Special Projects Developer Robert Sims, Investigative Intern Sam Stark, and Digital Director Kate Winkle contributed to the project.