SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE MEETS AT STATE CAPITOL
AUSTIN - The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing in the Senate Chamber, Friday, November 12, 1999. Committee members include Senators Teel Bivins of Amarillo, serving as chair, Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio (on her first work-day in the Senate), David Cain of Dallas, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, David Sibley of Waco, Royce West of Dallas, and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.
Today's meeting focused on the second of three interim charges issued by Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry. The charge directs the committee to evaluate issues related to teacher shortages and teacher utilization in Texas. Committee members were briefed by teachers, representatives from executive agencies, and individuals representing Texas teacher certification programs from institutions of higher learning.
Many witnesses spoke of the problem of teacher shortages in Texas, which is part of a larger, national problem. Only 15,000 teachers are certified in Texas each year, a number well below the total vacancies. Many of them teach in different subject areas from their certification expertise. As much as 14% of first-year teachers and 18% of all teachers fall into this category.
Representatives from teachers certification plans, both traditional and alternative, discussed plans to increase teacher recruitment efforts. Fifteen to 20 percent of Texas teachers are certified by alternative programs, particularly those in bilingual and special education. These programs do not receive state funds, and witnesses told the senators that federal funds are not enough. Texas' rapid population growth and the large number of teachers retiring each year continue to make the shortage problem a menace within the state's educational system.
Testimony revealed that the problem is not only limited to low recruitment, but also to low retention. Twenty percent of Texas' teachers leave their jobs after the first year. Low salaries, recruitment competition from high tech and other companies offering better salaries, and the lack of on-the-job mentoring and professional development all contribute to the shortage. The strong economy lures many potential and existing teachers to better paying jobs. Seventy-one percent of teachers work during the summer to supplement their income. Large class sizes and the lack of support from school administrators were also mentioned as contributing factors for teachers leaving the profession. The main recommendations made to committee members included higher salaries, more scholarships, on-the-job professional mentoring, and better work benefits and retirement for teachers.
Testimony was provided by several groups. Pam Tackett from the State Board of Educator Certification, Don Brown and Robert Fernandez of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board presented the agency perspective to the committee. Dr. Jane Conely of Texas A&M University addressed salary issues. The panel was briefed on recruitment strategies by Dr. Mary Ann Rankin of the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin, Dr. Millie Klein of Regional Education Service Center XX in San Antonio, and Dr. Leo Sayavedra of Texas A&M University. Dr. Sandra Peterson of Regional Education Service Center IV in Houston and Dr. Leslie Huling of Southwest Texas State University testified about innovations in training and retention. Julian Shaddix of Texas Secondary Principals Association, Bill Bechtol of the Texas Elementary Principals Association, Barry Nettles of the School District Personnel Directors Association, Nadine Kujawa of Aldine Independent School District, and Jo Wicker of the Texas Association of School Boards Personnel Services presented the district perspectives. Rene Lara of the Texas Federation of Teachers, Lonnie Hollingsworth of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Brock Gregg of the Association of Professional Educators, and Jack Kelly of the Texas State Teachers Association presented the educators' perspective to the panel.
The committee will continue to meet with other experts and the public in a series of public hearings throughout the interim. The committee will submit their findings in the form of a report to be presented to the 77th Legislature which will convene in January of 2001.