2021 has been a profoundly difficult year, on every front. But there have been bright spots.
From the start of November through Thanksgiving, we have highlighted on social media some of the incredible work of our members and our union that we’re grateful for this year.
Here are the wins from 2021, collected so you can revisit them again and again.
Nov. 1: Student Debt Forgiveness for Educators
We’ll start with a national win. Thanks to a lawsuit by the American Federation of Teachers, millions of educators, healthcare professionals, and public employees are now eligible to have their student debt discharged sooner with changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Nov. 2: Internet Access for Rural Texans
Bastrop Federation of Teachers members used their voices to advocate for their students struggling with poor internet access. Sharing their stories of school bus hotspots and reading students’ lips on Zoom made the case for House Bill 5, a new law that provides incentives to internet providers to expand broadband access to rural areas and neighborhoods without adequate access.
Nov. 3: Free Citizenship Clinics for Permanent Residents
“I can think of nothing that is a greater honor than helping one of our colleagues become fully vested in our country, fully vested in our democracy, and able to fully lift their voice,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo at the Houston clinic in May.
Nov. 4: COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics
Our union was determined to make back-to-school safer — even if state leaders refused to do so. Our four local unions in the Rio Grande Valley have hosted a series of COVID-19 vaccine clinics that have gotten more than 800 shots in arms & made communities and schools safer. These clinics are still ongoing through December.
Nov. 5: 13th Check for Retirees
Like many of you, we won’t be happy until the Legislature makes annual cost-of-living adjustments for retired educators a reality. But we are grateful for the efforts of our Retiree Plus members in advocating for (and winning) a one-time supplemental payment for relief now.
We’re also grateful to all members for sending 4,600 letters to your state representatives on the subject.
Nov. 6: Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding Sent Directly to School Districts
With millions of federal dollars hanging in the balance this spring, you sent thousands of letters and tweets to your state representatives.
And it worked. Educator advocacy made sure most — if not quite all — of nearly $17 billion went directly to school districts to respond to COVID-19 needs.
Nov. 7: Improved COVID-19 Testing in Schools
School safety was the single biggest issue on all our minds. Texas AFT Associate Membership Program members in Judson organized a car caravan and other protests for an enhanced COVID-19 testing plan.
The result? A partnership with a local nonprofit to provide regular, reliable, district-wide testing for staff and students.
Nov. 8: State Takeover Bill Scaled Back Dramatically
In its original form, Senate Bill 1365 would have given the education commissioner “final and unappealable” power to impose sanctions and take over school districts.
Four thousand letters, 5,000 tweets, and countless phone calls from our members to the Legislature radically changed the bill before passage.
Nov. 9: Local COVID-19 Paid Leave
Protecting school employees during the COVID-19 pandemic has been an ongoing battle — but one we never gave up on.
In DeSoto ISD, Southwest Dallas AFT members fought for and won COVID-19 paid leave days for all employees. They spoke at town halls and board meetings and sent nearly 900 letters to the school board.
Now they’re fighting for the same protections for Duncanville ISD employees.
Nov. 10: A Fair Shot for Students with Serious Illnesses
A bright spot in the Texas Legislature: the passage of House Bill 699, known as “Riley’s Rule.”
Named for the son of a Cy-Fair AFT member managing challenging health issues, this law will require schools districts to excuse student absences for serious or life-threatening illnesses or treatments.
Nov. 11: Community Coalition Building for Safer, More Equitable Schools
As we stared down yet another school year disrupted by pandemic, the need for students, parents, and school employees to work together was critical.
The San Antonio Alliance did deep work in their community to strengthen relationships between educators, school employees, students, and parents. Working together, the local union and allies:
- elected a pro-educator school board candidate
- secured commitment from the district to involve employees and the community in decisions on using federal COVID-19 relief money
- won a district mask mandate at the start of the 2021-2022 school year
- secured continued COVID-19 safety protocols like contact tracing and paid pandemic leave
- won a retention stipend for all employees
Nov. 12: Four New Charter Chains Denied
Part of the importance of the State Board of Education is its ability to curb unchecked charter school expansion.
Electing public education allies to the SBOE has consequences. We saw this in June when the board vetoed 4 of 7 new charter applicants.
A huge victory against big-money interests.
Nov. 13: Two Members Named Finalists for Texas Teacher of the Year
Our union was proud to have two members named finalists for Texas Teacher of the Year.
Sanford Jeames, an Education Austin member and high school health science programs coordinator, was a finalist for Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Jennifer Han, a McAllen AFT member and fourth-grade bilingual and gifted and talented teacher, went on to win Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Nov. 14: Nonprofit Partnership to Feed Hungry Students
Educators and school employees who join Texas AFT are not just union members. They are members of their communities, and their work together serves those communities.
A prime example this year is our union’s partnership with Brighter Bites to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables and nutrition resources to families at Houston ISD’s Dogan Elementary.
“As part of our effort to make public schools places that support the whole child, and centers where families and communities feel welcome and safe, we want every kid to be able to access healthy meals, so they’re ready to concentrate, grow and thrive,”” AFT President Randi Weingarten said at the launch of the partnership in May.
Nov. 15: Pay Raises and Retention Bonuses for School Employees
We always say school board races are important. Here’s one reason: They control your paychecks. That’s why our local unions and members work hard to get educator allies elected and form solid relationships with their boards.
The work pays off. In an incredibly difficult year, members across the state — from Spring to Socorro to McAllen and beyond — won pay raises and retention bonuses for school district employees.
Nov. 16: Local Mask Mandates to Start the School Year
The start of this school year was always going to be difficult. Gov. Greg Abbott’s moves to end the statewide mask mandate and block districts from making their own mask requirements introduced more needless chaos.
We’re proud of the work of our members in advocating for the safety of themselves, their students, and their communities. They helped to push and support school districts — like Dallas, Austin, Houston, and many, many more — that bucked the governor’s executive order and prioritized safety.
Defying politically motivated, harmful edicts in this pandemic likely saved lives.
Nov. 17: Statewide Day of Action on School Funding
Normally, our members gather at the state Capitol every legislative session to advocate for public education issues. This year, the pandemic made that impossible.
Instead, members from more than a dozen of our local unions and from our Associate Membership Program participated in a day of car caravans, outdoor rallies, and webinars throughout the state to highlight various funding needs for our public schools — from canceling money-wasting STAAR to ensuring federal relief money went directly to schools.
That evening, hundreds also joined an online phone bank to help school employees make COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Nov. 18: Investments in COVID-19 Safety
For our members, safety was the biggest issue in returning to school this year.
La Joya AFT helped to make their community’s schools safer by using a $40,000 AFT grant to buy a new air quality system to help slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout district schools.
Nov. 19: Partnerships Between Educators and Parents
Despite what some politicians and extremists would have you believe, parents and educators aren’t on opposing sides. To make our schools safer and to help them serve all students well, parents and school employees must work together.
Many of our local unions redoubled efforts to build stronger relationships with parents in their districts this year, including Northside AFT.
By encouraging parents to use their voices in concert with school employees, Northside AFT members secured:
- COVID-19 employee retention bonus
- 3% pay raise for district employees
- district mask mandate
They also worked together with parents to protect their rights to be heard at school board meetings.
Nov. 20: Educator Allies Elected to School Boards
It’s been 10 or 15 minutes since we last reminded everyone that school board elections matter. These locally elected boards have huge fingerprints on your schools’ working and learning conditions. (That includes employee paychecks and benefits.)
That’s why it’s wonderful news when educator-endorsed candidates pick up or keep their seats. Members in Aldine AFT and Alief AFTSE did great work to propel an allied candidate each to their respective school boards.
Nov. 21: New Union-Made Clean Energy Initiative
“You can have well-paying jobs and a solid economy while taking bold action on climate change.”
Those were Texas AFT President Zeph Capo’s words this summer when our union joined with 26 others to launch the Texas Climate Jobs Project.
Transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy could create more than 1.1 million high-quality, union jobs in the next 25 years. We’re proud to stand in solidarity with that future.
Nov. 22: Massive Community Outreach for a Safer Return to School
In many ways, back-to-school this year was more anxious, more difficult, and more uncertain than last year. Our members in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Cy-Fair, and elsewhere across the state took it as a personal mission to help students and families return to school safely and supported.
They picked up the phone, knocked doors, and hosted community events. (HFT alone made 23,000 phone calls to parents and community members.)
All of that work was to make sure all of our communities knew educators and school employees were on their side.
Nov. 23: Resolutions Passed on Union-Building, Social Justice, and Retirement Equity
Texas AFT’s 30th biennial convention this summer was our first virtual convention. But we were still able to underscore the important work and the key challenges of our members and local unions.
Additionally, delegates passed nine resolutions to guide our union’s work in the coming years. Resolutions included:
- support for LGBTQIA+ students and educators
- a call for a cost-of-living adjustment for all retired TRS members
- support for building union power for higher ed employees
- a vow to advocate for legislation to provide full access to Social Security to all Texas education employees
Nov. 24: 37,000+ Letters Sent to Elected Officials
The pandemic may have kept us apart for much of 2021, but Texas AFT members made their voices heard anyway.
When we asked for action, you answered, sending more than 37,000 e-letters to state lawmakers, TEA, and the governor on bad bills, safety concerns, and charter school power grabs.
Even if we didn’t win the battle that day, rest assured: They heard you.