FORNEY, Texas — Forney Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Justin Terry has among 28 people named to the Texas Education Agency's Teacher Vacancy Task Force, the agency announced.

Last week, the agency announced the creation of the task force, at the direction of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, to help address staffing challenges facing Texas public schools.

"While the continued population growth of Texas was already contributing to a staffing shortage in some of the state’s urban and suburban public school districts, schools in various rural areas, and also, those requiring certain specialized teaching positions were also previously experiencing staffing difficulties.," read a statement from the TEA.

"COVID has only further amplified this challenge; and spikes in COVID cases have led to many public schools across Texas being short-staffed and unable to find substitute teachers to help fill in where needed," continued the agency.

“Teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student outcomes,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “The Teacher Vacancy Task Force will further ensure our ability to provide the best guidance, support, and resources to help schools find and retain the teachers they need for all their students.”

The creation of the task force drew criticism from the Texas State Teachers Association last week for only naming two teachers to the task force and proposed making higher teacher pay a priority.

"We are glad that the governor and commissioner saw fit to appoint two teachers to the task force, but we are disappointed that a larger number was not added to a group of twenty‐eight people," read a statement, in part, from TSTA President Ovidia Molina. "Who knows better about why there is a teacher shortage than real experts, the teachers themselves?"

Molina says higher pay for all teachers should be a priority of the task force, and not just "merit pay" for select individuals.

"Teacher pay in Texas has been substandard for years, and even after the raises approved by the Legislature in 2019, average teacher pay in Texas still lags more than $7,000 behind the national average, according to the most‐recent National Education Association survey," stated Molina. "That is a big reason for the teacher shortage, which was worsened by the pandemic."

While the first meeting of the task force was absent a panel, the TEA says future meetings will rely heavily on the presence and input of teachers through a designated teacher panel — ensuring the agency receives guidance and feedback from a diverse and representative range of teachers from across Texas.

Over the last two years, according to the TEA, nearly $18 billion in COVID-19 relief funding has been distributed to school systems, allowing for a critical increase in the number of teachers, staff, and other priority support positions needing to be filled in public schools throughout Texas.

The Teacher Vacancy Task Force will work to ensure that Texas schools are equipped with a comprehensive set of strategies to address these challenges, according to the TEA, working to:

  • Understand the challenges districts are currently facing related to teacher vacancies
  • Share best practices for addressing critical teacher vacancy and shortage areas, including exploring opportunities for certification, placement, and hiring flexibilities
  • Develop recommendations for regulatory or other policy changes for TEA
  • Provide feedback on TEA initiatives designed to help impact vacancies