Texas lawmakers hope an investment in teacher training will help keep new educators in the classroom longer

Jessica Lemmer went over a fraction problem with her third grade math class Jan. 14, 2018, at Edward Titche Elementary School in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas. (Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson For The Texas Tribune, Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson For The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

As the state struggles with retaining teachers, the Texas House passed a bill Thursday that would boost training programs for aspiring teachers and offer other incentives with the hope of improving the odds that educators will stay longer in the profession.

House Bill 11, authored by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, would allocate funds to help school districts pay for more teacher residencies, programs that place would-be teachers in classrooms with mentors for about a year, teaching them how to do the job before hiring as full-time educators the following year.

The bill passed with a 145-3 vote and now heads to the Senate.

“I’m convinced [HB 11] will improve teacher quality,” Dutton said. “We’ve been throwing teachers into the classroom without any experience whatsoever.”

Currently, if a district wants to host an aspiring teacher through a residency, it must come up with the money on its own to pay for that person’s salary. Under the bill, districts would receive between $22,000 and $42,000 to pay each residency student.

The bill is the lower chamber’s response to the recommendations of a task force formed last year by Gov. Greg Abbott after the pandemic exacerbated Texas’ teacher shortage.

Scott Muri, superintendent of the Ector County Independent School District, which already has a residency program, said the new state funding would allow his school district to expand the number of teacher residents it can pay.

“A teacher resident outperforms a first-year teacher. In fact, many times a teacher resident performs as if they were a second- and sometimes even a third-year teacher,” Muri said. “That’s great for kids.”

School districts would still be responsible for paying at least half of the salary of those in the program — which might remain a high cost for some.

It has been particularly difficult for schools to fill the positions of the teachers who have left the profession in recent years. Since the 2011-12 school year, about 10% of teachers in Texas have left the field each year. That number dipped to about 9% during the 2020-21 school year but is going back up — rising to almost 12% during the 2021-22 school year.

HB 11 seems to acknowledge the role that teacher preparation has in keeping them on the job.

Most of Texas’ educators get certified through alternative programs, which can be completed online and within a year, but they are more likely to leave the profession than those who go through four-year programs. Some have speculated that teachers who become certified through alternative programs do not receive the same amount of support as educators who go through four-year programs, and they are usually placed in high-need classrooms without the benefit of working with more experienced teachers to guide them.

Data from the Texas Education Agency shows that the state would have needed about 3,700 fewer new teachers during the 2021-22 school year if teachers prepared in alternative certification programs were retained at the same rate as teachers prepared in traditional programs, such as those at four-year universities.

Supporters of the bill say robust teacher residency programs would be a boost to Texas’ educator workforce. Residency programs allow teaching students to quit their day jobs, spend time in classrooms and get a better idea of what the job entails. And they usually lead to better retention rates for teachers. According to the National Center for Teacher Residencies, teachers who go through residency programs are more likely to stay in the profession, with 86% still teaching in the same school after three years.

“The legislation would position Texas as a national leader in teacher residencies that yield better outcomes for students and educators,” said Ryan Franklin, senior director of policy and advocacy at Educate Texas.

Jonathan Feinstein, the Texas director of the Education Trust, a nonprofit focused on promoting academic achievement for students of color and low-income students, said residency programs are among the best tools that the state has to retain teachers.

HB 11 “would simply encourage and provide a sustainable source of funding for districts,” he said. “And residency programs that have been vetted by the state will continue to grow and scale over the long term, and steadily but surely chip away at the retention problem.”

The bill also includes other features to incentivize teachers to stay in the profession, fight the shortage and understand the nature of the problem.

The legislation would expand and give more funding to the Teacher Incentive Allotment, a program that promises to pay teachers up to six-figure salaries if they meet certain performance requirements. About 13,000 teachers, or about 4% of the state’s educators, are currently part of the program.

The raises are largely tied to how well teachers can improve scores on the state’s standardized tests, but critics say it’s an unfair way to gauge teacher performance since test scores are just a snapshot of what children learn throughout the year and may not reflect their true academic achievement.

The bill also adds funding for school districts to rehire retired teachers who, if they can be convinced to return to the profession, are seen as a promising workforce that can help stem the teacher shortage. School officials have not been rehiring more retirees because it would mean either them or the retiree paying a larger contribution to the Teacher Retirement System.

In addition, the bill would allow teachers to send their children to pre-K in the districts where they work, if the service is available. Pre-K is not mandated in Texas, and the state will help cover the cost only for students who don’t speak English, are homeless or have parents who are active members of the military.

HB 11 would also waive the costs of certain teacher certification exams when people take them for the first time.

Finally, the bill instructs the TEA to conduct a “time study” to take a deeper look at the reasons why teachers are spending time completing their work outside their work hours. This was another recommendation from the teacher shortage task force.

Disclosure: Educate Texas and Education Trust have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.