A task force of three major state agencies, charged by Gov. Greg Abbott with assessing economic activity and workforce challenges, has begun holding forums to gather input from Texans on the state’s diverse needs and strengths.

The Tri-Agency Taskforce recently conducted its first forum in Midland, beginning a tour of many throughout the Lone Star State. The taskforce, made up of the heads of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission were charged by Abbott to “assess local economic activity, examine workforce challenges and opportunities, and consider innovative approaches to meeting the state’s workforce goals.” Forums will be visiting eight Texas cities over the next four months.

Topics discussed at Midland’s forum included the need for better college prep in the high schools, ways to improve recruiting techniques among Permian Basin companies, and the need for more skilled workers.

While workforce needs were discussed in depth, much of the conservation revolved around the role that education plays in producing a qualified workforce, with specific attention paid to the issue of teacher effectiveness and local retention.

Mike Morath, the newly-appointed Education Commissioner, talked about the importance and success of applying free market concepts to the school system. In particular, he talked about how he helped restructure evaluation levels and compensation structure during his time as a trustee for Dallas ISD and its effectiveness in improving teacher retention and instruction quality.

In Dallas, he noted, “teacher compensation was divorced from performance,” and instead was tied to seniority. The lack of correlation between pay and performance didn’t give teachers the incentive to necessarily improve their quality of teaching, he said, and took away the healthy competition that you see in a free market. Instead, they restructured the pay system so that teacher compensation is now tied to performance and there are more evaluation levels that can be attained – giving both the instructor and school leadership a better idea of where the teacher is at.

He also said this proved to be a better allocation of the district’s financial resources considering on average over 50% of a districts resources are spent on teacher salary.

When asked how teachers reacted to the change in pay structure, he said that “60% of the teachers were in favor of it,” and that teachers are the resource that matters most.

The Tri-Agency Taskforce will be making their next stop in San Antonio on April 26th, followed by Houston April 29th, Dallas May 11th, El Paso May 20th, McAllen May 25th, and Tyler/Longview June 2nd. They will be ending the tour with an Austin Workforce Summit in September.

Lauren Melear

Lauren Melear leads the West Texas Bureau of Texas Scorecard. When not working, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog, as well as cooking, working out, traveling to the hill country, and cheering on the fightin' Texas Aggies.