Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

District Recruitment and Retention Tools: Read the Fine Print

District Recruitment and Retention Tools: Read the Fine Print

Your Ally | By Lance Cain, ATPE Managing Attorney

ATPE Managing Attorney Lance Cain discusses details you should consider when participating in certain school district programs designed to entice prospective hires and retain existing staff.

More than ever, Texas school districts are finding creative ways of enticing prospective hires and retaining existing staff. These measures often financially benefit employees but may also come with contract or policy language that may limit participating employees’ future options. Therefore, you should make a habit of familiarizing yourself with the details of any district recruitment and retention programs before making any commitments.

There are several reasons a district might choose to incentivize qualified candidates in this way. Recent educator shortages have been fueled by historic attrition rates. In the one-year span between fall 2021 and fall 2022, 13.4% of teachers left the profession. Meanwhile, the available applicant pool contains fewer experienced teachers, and the percentage of newly hired teachers without a certificate or permit rose to a staggering 28.8% during 2022-23 school year. According to TEA, that is a full 10% higher than the previous year and 23% higher than a decade ago.

Signing and retention bonuses

In the past several years, it has become more common for districts to offer monetary bonuses, but an educator’s right to earn and keep these bonuses often depends on the district’s established criteria.

Signing bonuses are usually available only to newly hired employees, and they often come with stipulations that require the employee to remain employed with the district for a set time period. In those situations, employees choosing to resign before that time may be required to repay the bonus. Again, it can depend on the district’s criteria. But because locally provided bonuses are not governed by state law, a district has fairly broad discretion when interpretating its own bonus criteria.

Retention bonuses may apply to both new and existing employees. The same general rules apply in that an employee’s right to earn and keep the bonus depends heavily on the district’s criteria. And because retaining employees is the intention, employees should review the policy carefully before resigning to make sure they don’t have to pay back the bonus.

District residency, internship, or apprenticeship programs

Other increasingly common recruiting techniques include district-run programs designed to “grow their own” educators. There are several variations, but many involve the district’s partnering with a local university and paying teachers a residency or internship stipend while they gain experience and certification. Program requirements and benefits vary greatly, so it is important to be familiar with all the details.

Other programs offer to pay for all or a portion of an educator’s college tuition in exchange for the educator’s agreeing to work for the district—sometimes for many years. Some educators may find this an extremely helpful way to progress toward a teaching career while gaining useful experience. But due to the potentially harsh penalties for breaking the agreement (some even require full repayment for any tuition costs paid for by the district), anyone considering this arrangement should be prepared to fulfill the future commitment.

District of Innovation (DOI) Plans

Other districts have used their DOI plan to opt out of state laws in an effort to retain employees. We know of at least two examples. One district altered the 45-day summer resignation deadline, requiring its teachers to give more than 45 days’ notice before the first instructional day to resign without penalty.

Another district used its DOI plan to replace the summer resignation deadline with a liquidated damages arrangement. Although the district provides a monetary recruitment incentive to sign a contract, the district also established resignation penalties that depend on the timing. Educators who resign before a set date have to pay back the initial incentive payment. Educators who resign later in the year must pay back the incentive payment plus an additional financial penalty.

Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA)

The TIA is a state-funded program designed to award additional pay to highly effective teachers. Districts receive an annual allotment for each designated teacher they employ and are required to spend at least 90% of the allotment on teacher compensation at the designated teacher’s campus.

If a teacher earns the designation in one district but then resigns, the designation follows the teacher to a new district. However, the allotment funding may not, depending on the timing of the resignation and the district’s local spending plan, which can be utilized as a retention tool. If specified in its local spending plan, a district can keep a resigning teacher’s allotment, as long as the teacher leaves prior to the Aug. 31 spending deadline. The district must then give 90% of that teacher’s funds to other teachers at the campus where the designated teacher previously worked.

Because educator compensation is still not where it should be, it is only natural to seek out additional compensation opportunities. We hope this brief guide will help you navigate your job opportunities for the next school year and avoid any unwanted consequences. Just remember to familiarize yourself with the details of these types of programs before making any commitments.


The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.