Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath speaks Tuesday at the Texas Public Schools Post 87th Legislative Summit.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath says the “disruption” the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on schools is “hard to describe.”

Morath was a speaker at Tuesday’s Texas Public Schools Post 87th Legislative Summit, hosted by Longview ISD. Superintendents and school boards were given the opportunity to come together and reflect on the past legislative session.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the speakers and the presentations,” said Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox.

The presenters discussed topics such as the teacher retirement program, educator benefits and more.

Morath told attendees that schools have had to wrestle with the mask mandate question.

“Making schools safe and healthy the last 18 months has been a lot more challenging,” Morath said. “Every minute that a group of teachers has to think about hand sanitizer, and every minute you have to think if ‘they’re too close’ — every minute that you have to focus that’s operational matters of health and safety is a minute that you’re not thinking of reading, writing, arithmetic.”

He emphasized that COVID-19 has taken a toll on students’ learning, adding that students in grades three and four have declined in math and are below grade level on the subject.

“Our track records on taking kids that are below grade level and catching them up has not been incredibly strong as a state,” Morath said. “And when we dealt with major disruptions and not just us, but education all over the place, it’s been very difficult to recover. We have about 800,000 more children in the state of Texas who are noticeably below grade level this year versus normal.”

Morath also voiced concern for the shortage of teachers in rural areas of Texas.

As Morath showed a PowerPoint presentation, he pointed out that teachers deserve a pathway to six-figure salaries.

“This is not about making teachers work harder — our teachers work their tails off,” he said. “This is about getting your rockstar teachers to stay teachers longer because every year we can keep them is another 20 kids they can have a massive effect on.”

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