Texas AFT Warns School Staffing Shortages Are Far From Over

Empty classroom
Photo of empty classroom in school | Image by Dusan Stankovic

School districts across the nation have seen staffing shortages since COVID-19 began. In a news release earlier this month, the Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced that the problem has persevered and could worsen, finding that 66% of its members polled in a January study have recently considered leaving their jobs.

The professional union disseminated a survey to 3,800 of its members that revealed two-thirds of them (including educators, school counselors, librarians, custodians, and bus drivers) have thought about leaving their jobs in the past year.

Similarly, an August 2021 study from Education Week found 20% of the seventy-five teachers it researched had either left or were actively considering leaving teaching.

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo stated: “These aren’t folks who hate what they do. They want to stay. Public schools are not only facing an immediate public health crisis. They’re also facing a potentially devastating staffing crisis. More and more school staff and teachers [are] being driven out of their jobs by concerns for their safety, workloads that keep increasing, paychecks that stay stagnant, or more frequently, a combination of those things.”

Capo shared a few video testimonials during the news conference, which featured teachers talking about the staffing challenges and other problems they have been facing.

Irving assistant math teacher George Cuba commented, “I’ve heard, more than last year, [about] people just having breakdowns or having heightened anxiety.”

“I, personally, am in survival mode,” another teacher, Nicolette Balogh, added.

The Texas AFT claimed there are too many people leaving the education profession and not enough entry-level educators available to replace them.

“It’s been affecting almost every district at this point,” Cuba commented, “And not just a shortage of teachers, but staff in general.”

According to Texas AFT data, Texas teachers earn an average of $57,000 a year. The national average salary is $65,000. Out of those surveyed, 45% said they would want to see pay incentives to stay in the profession.

In November 2021, Dallas ISD announced retention incentives for the 2022-2023 school year of $2,500 to $3,500, based on teacher effectiveness. At the end of last year, the district reported the lowest turnover rate for 2020-2021 among its comparable peers in DFW.

“With a combination of the retention incentive for staff who return for the 2022-2023 school year and other initiatives supporting teachers and campuses, we believe that our retention rate will remain strong, and we will be able to provide the stable learning environment our students deserve,” said Robert Abel, DISD’s chief of human capital management, in a statement.

Per the Dallas Observer, President of the Dallas Alliance-AFT teacher’s union Rena Honea expressed surprise in learning DISD had the lowest turnover rate in the area, citing anecdotal evidence of several teachers she knows have plans to leave at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

In contrast, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a report for the 2020-2021 school year that calculated the state’s teacher attrition was 9.34% — lower than the last nine school years.

The Education Week study found that more than half of the teachers it surveyed felt more cynical about their work, feeling their efforts to do right by their students were being obstructed and their professional opinions were disregarded.

Two-thirds said they were exhausted from being overworked.

The Texas AFT survey additionally found 35% of respondents wished to see a change in workload, and 8% desired safety improvements in schools.

Capo asserted teachers “want a safe working environment,” “need a saner workload that doesn’t make them sacrifice every evening and weekend with their families,” “need a livable salary,” and “strongly believe that we need fully funded schools, so they don’t have to spend $400 out of their pocket each year to stock their classrooms.”

The Texas Senate passed a two year budget in April 2021 that allotted nearly $18 billion of state revenue to support for grade school education including pay raises for teachers and additional assistance for students who need extra help.

Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), the chief budget writer and a former teacher, commented, “This budget fully funds the historic commitment that we made last session to public education and our retired teachers.”

However, some North Texas school districts, including Highland Park ISD, have been accused of using funding on administration instead of teachers and other staff. In a November interview with The Dallas Express, Spencer Siino, a teacher who moved from Los Angeles to work in Highland Park, claimed the district does not prioritize educators..

According to Siino, the district “increased spending on everything except for teacher salaries and development.”

“Investment in teachers has gone down,” he said. “Everything else has gone way up.”

Siino originally posted his findings in the Facebook group Parents Unite. Highland Park ISD responded to the post, stating a majority of the funding was used on classroom instruction, which Siino called “a logical fallacy.”

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