State of Texas: Lawmaker aims to address 'overload' pushing Texas teachers to quit

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A survey of more than 20,000 Texas teachers found “personal overload” was the number one issue cited by educators who recently quit or retired, according to the Texas Education Agency data released on Tuesday.

Jean Streepey, a Highland Park middle school teacher and Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force member, told lawmakers Tuesday additional expectations on teachers at the onset of the pandemic worsened the ongoing teacher shortage in the state.

“What is new are the expectations to implement the technology, substitute for little or no pay, mentor new teachers, and take on additional tutoring,” Streepey said. “We are simply wearing out the people we want to keep.”

Two months before the school year started in 2021, the governor signed into law HB 4545 – giving school districts fewer than two months to figure out how to provide 30 hours of extra tutoring to more than a half million students in the state.

Rep. Harold Dutton, who wrote the bill, said in an interview Monday he plans to fix the law this upcoming session, including reducing the number of hours required for each student and providing funding to help hire tutors and other resources.

“I hear the problems. I kind of knew that when we passed this bill because we passed it under some rather strange circumstances. But I knew teachers being the kind of people they were, would take it and make it work.”

Rep. Dutton, D-Houston, said the committee will re-examine the state’s recapture system, which requires the most property-rich school districts to pay back money to the state for it to be distributed to poorer districts in the state. Dutton said he will also look at state-mandated salary minimums for educators.

“If we don’t make changes such that we get the salary schedule bumped up, moved up and started towards the place it ought to be just like before, we will lose more and more teachers, and the real victims in this is the students,” Dutton said.

TEA Deputy Commissioner Kelvey Oeser told lawmakers during the hearing Tuesday they should consider ways to improve working conditions for teachers, including expanding support.

“The documentation teachers go through in their classroom is unbelievable,” Texas State Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Bell County, said. “For everything we ask them to do, we need to take two things away.”

“Lives are depending on this,” Texas lawmaker pushes for accountability after delay of maternal death data

A state lawmaker is looking for accountability after Texas delayed the publication of maternal death data, which was due to be released on Sept. 1, a deadline mandated by state law.

Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, is now meeting with attorneys to see if she can get her hands on the data. She and 29 other lawmakers sent a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday pushing the department to release the 2022 Texas Maternal Mortality Report.

Thierry told KXAN on Wednesday she had not yet gotten a response from DSHS. She said each day that goes by the report is not published, the department is in direct violation of the law. It’s unclear, however, how that law is enforced.

“We would hope that our agencies and departments would be held to the same standards as the everyday taxpayer,” Thierry said. “They have every obligation and duty to abide by the law.”

A 2019 KXAN investigation dug into reasons mothers die during pregnancy or after giving birth. It also found the exact number of women dying isn’t clear due to data collection errors.

DSHS has the latest data, but it likely won’t be released until after the next legislative session.

According to Thierry’s letter to DSHS, that delay will “significantly hinder the legislature’s ability to access and implement critical policy aimed at reducing and preventing future pregnancy-related deaths and maternal morbidities.”

During Texas’ last legislative session, Thierry filed a bill that would have established a data registry and maternal mortality and data registry, which would have essentially had real-time reporting of maternal health outcomes. The bill did not pass, but Thierry said if it had, there would not be a need for a state agency or department to provide the information.

Thierry said she wants to refile the bill, but it’s hard to know what to expect without the report.

“Without this report, essentially, my colleagues and I don’t know whether we’re bringing a garden hose to put out a flame or whether we need ten fire trucks to put out a four-alarm fire,” Thierry said. “And as I’ve said, right now, all we know, is that DSHS has cut off water.”

The law that requires the report to be published doesn’t specify what happens if the report isn’t released on time, Thierry explained.

“But I am going to continue to sound the alarm because it’s not just enforcing the law for the law’s sake — lives are depending on this,” she said. “Texas mothers, pregnant women and future pregnant women should not have to stress and worry as to whether or not they are at an increased risk for a pregnancy-related death simply, because they live in the state of Texas.”

Read the full investigation here.

Democrat Mike Collier reaches for Republican votes in race against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Mike Collier’s campaign said he has met with more than a dozen elected Republican officials and has been publicly endorsed by two.

Collier will have to compete with Republican incumbent Dan Patrick’s campaign war chest and lead in the polls. New polling out this week from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin shows Patrick leading by seven percentage points amongst registered voters.

The former Republican hopes his GOP roots, coupled with dissatisfaction in how Patrick has handled the job, will bring crossover Republican votes in his favor come November. According to the poll, 32% of registered voters “disapprove strongly” of Patrick’s work as lieutenant governor.

“I think Texans are really, really tired of partisan warfare,” Collier said in an interview with Nexstar. “I talk honestly about my career as a businessman, as an energy guy. I used to be Republican, that I can build a coalition not only across the state but across the aisle.”

The Democratic nominee was recently endorsed by two Texas Republicans — who are on their way out of office. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said they would be voting for Collier. Seliger told the Texas Tribune Patrick has created a culture of “vindictiveness” and “maliciousness” but has been known in the legislature to butt heads with the leader of the Senate.

Patrick seldom mentions his opponent in his campaign ads or when making his rounds of television and radio appearances on conservative media. He did, however, try to tie Collier with the president in an interview with Nexstar affiliate KAMC — noting the Democrat advised Joe Biden during his 2020 presidential campaign.

“Mike Collier would be a disaster lieutenant governor,” Patrick told KAMC. “I don’t think Lubbock or West Texas or Texas wants to vote for a local Joe Biden as the lieutenant governor.”

There’s room for both candidates or even the Libertarian one to pick up votes, with 20% of voters saying they “haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion,” when it comes to their choice for lieutenant governor, according to the poll.

In the 2018 elections, Patrick won with 51% of the vote. Collier lost, receiving 46% of the vote.

Campaign aims to educate Texas voters to avoid election problems

Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott shared details about a campaign aimed at educating voters before the November elections on Tuesday in east Austin.

This comes the same day as National Voter Registration Day, a holiday that’s been recognized for at least a decade now. According to the National Voter Registration Day website, nearly 4.7 million voters have registered to vote on the holiday to date.

Scott discussed the “VoteReady” statewide campaign. Its goal is to inform voters about the seven approved forms of photo identification that can be presented at polls to vote:

  • Texas Driver License issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS
  • Texas Personal Identification Card issued by DPS
  • Texas Handgun License issued by DPS
  • United States Military Identification Card containing the person’s photograph
  • United States Citizenship Certificate containing the person’s photograph
  • United States Passport (book or card)

The campaign will also explain what voters should do if they can’t get one of these IDs.

VoteReady will also cover who’s eligible for mail-in voting.

The campaign comes about a year after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a controversial elections bill into law. Senate Bill 1 includes a ban on 24-hour polling places, increased ID requirements, restrictions on drive-thru voting and limits voting by mail. 

Republicans have said it’s a way to ensure Texas elections are secure, but Democrats said the law makes it harder for certain Texans to vote, including people of color.

Challenges to the law were filed, and in May, the Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments related to a provision of the law that prohibits public election officials from promoting mail-in voting.

When you go to vote, there may be more oversight this time around. Under SB 1, Texas’ new election law passed in 2021, poll watchers will have more flexibility to keep their eyes on voters.

“The changes really stemmed from the COVID protocols that were in place in 2020, where a lot of poll workers were asking poll watchers to keep a respectful distance for you know, six-feet social distance, and that became a bit of an issue for some watchers,” Rose Clouston, voter protection director for the Texas Democratic Party, said.

Now, poll watchers are allowed to be close enough to see and hear what’s going on.

“The reason we have poll watchers is to build that public confidence to have multiple eyes on the process,” William Lutz, chairman of the Election Integrity Operations Committee for the Travis County Republican Party, said.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties are holding trainings for folks interested in becoming a poll watcher, but those workers must get a Certificate of Completion from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office through the program. 

Gates McGavick, the director of strategic communications for the RNC, said the GOP has recruited and trained around 5,000 poll watchers and workers in Texas so far.

“The goal of a poll watcher is really just to observe and report,” he said. “The idea behind it is just having people in the room — both Republican poll watchers, Democrat poll watchers — just making sure everything’s running smoothly. And if there’s an issue… they’re able to tabulate it and report it to the relevant authorities to make sure that the issue is taken care of.”

For Republicans, McGavick said he hopes getting citizens involved in the election will help bolster confidence in election security.

“We want more access for voting, but we want common sense safeguards,” he said. “This is just another function of people getting involved in the civic process, and it’s very much taking part in your community, taking part in elections, making sure that there’s faith in elections across the board for both parties.”

The last day for Texans to register to vote or change their address before this election is Oct. 11. The in-person early voting period in Texas starts Oct. 24 and lasts until Nov. 4. Election Day will happen the following Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The final day to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot is Oct. 28.