Local ISD To Consider Importing Teachers

Midland ISD Administration building | Image by News West 9

Trustees for the Midland Independent School District are considering a motion to facilitate hiring teachers from outside the United States via a program said by some to lack adequate safeguards.

At a Tuesday night meeting, Midland ISD’s school board will deliberate on whether to hire an agency to help import foreign educators to teach in the district. The district is staffed at 95% and has a sizeable share of emergent bilingual students, amounting to 15.3% of the student body in the 2021-2022 school year.

The company Midland ISD might hire is called J1X, and it is a Texas Education Agency-approved sponsor.

The hiring of teachers from abroad would be facilitated through the J-1 Exchange Visitor Teacher Program, created by the U.S. Department of State. It grants residency for between three to five years.

Although the program was conceptualized as fostering cultural and education exchange, it has been criticized for a lack of formal oversight.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor does not formally monitor J-1 recruitment practices or work policies. As a result, those recruited and hired as J-1 teachers might find themselves in a situation akin to indentured servitude where an agency charges them “recruitment fees,” placing them in considerable debt before they have even started to work.

A coalition of unions known as the Department for Professional Employees reports that while exact figures on how many J-1 teachers are currently employed in the country are unknown, public schools have increasingly sought them out. A teacher shortage and increased wage demands have proved taxing on many school systems, especially in states such as Texas, where additional factors of stagnant state support, declining student enrollment, and increased security mandates have proven burdensome.

The Dallas Express has reported extensively on local public school systems grappling with considerable budget deficits heading into the 2024-2025 school year. Cuts to staff — often the largest fiscal expense — have almost always been included in the strategies outlined by district officials looking to reduce the budget, alongside school or program closures.

J-1 teachers can be hired at a reduced cost to districts, partly due to them not requiring federal FICA taxes. Certification rules are also bypassed due to J-1 teachers being allowed to teach first and get certified later, raising several concerns about quality and expertise.

While the State Department notes on its website that the J-1 program “cannot be used as a substitute for ordinary employment or work purposes and it cannot displace American workers,” some view it as doing just that.

Midland ISD District 5 Trustee Brandon Hodges spoke to DX ahead of the vote, providing comment not in an official capacity but as a private citizen. His concerns centered on not only how hiring potentially unqualified teachers might negatively impact student learning but also how such a move would only distract from grappling with some of the problems causing teacher turnover in the first place.

“We’re going to end up in the same situation over and over again. This is about getting serious [about] focusing on discipline issues and cultural change within our school districts. Not just replacing X with Y,” Hodges said.

“We should be focused on supporting and improving the conditions of our teachers on campus … . We should be investing and supporting them so we can give the best opportunities to improve academic outcomes,” he added.

“When we start focusing on Band-Aids and what appears to be an easy solution, it’s just noise and it takes our eye off the long-term goal of being focused on improving education for our local kids that should be our number one focus.”

As covered previously in The Dallas Express, Dallas ISD tried to recruit teachers from Colombia and Mexico after seeing a turnover rate of 13.8% for the 2021-2021 academic year. Only 41% of Dallas ISD students scored at grade level on that year’s STAAR exam. Midland ISD students hardly fared any better, with just 42% achieving grade level on the same tests.

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