Hundreds of Texas School Employees Rally for Respect in Austin

Socorro AFT members wave signs in support of public education and against school vouchers at a rally outside the Texas AFL-CIO on Monday. Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios.

“When I say ‘respect,’ you say ‘us,’” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, from a stage outside of the Texas AFL-CIO on Monday. 

The crowd of several hundred Texas school employees responded enthusiastically in union, as they did when Capo made a second request: “When I say ‘reject,’ you say ‘vouchers.’”

The call-and-response at the afternoon rally summed up the theme for Texas AFT’s Public Education Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol: a resounding call for increased state funding for public schools — and public school employee raises — and against several bills that would endanger that funding through private school vouchers.  

In all, more than 500 Texas teachers and public school employees (including cafeteria workers, nurses, and counselors) participated in a day of events in and around the Capitol. Nearly 20 independent school districts were represented by members of Texas AFT’s local affiliates. 

To start the day, Texas AFT members heard directly from legislators who have filed bills in support of our Respect Agenda: Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas), Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), Rep. John Bucy (D-Round Rock), Rep. Terry Meza (D-Dallas), and Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio). Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios.

Texas AFT Members Make 80+ Legislative Visits

In a full day of action, teachers and school employees blanketed the Capitol, visiting the offices of their representatives and senators. Texas AFT members took the opportunity to share their personal experiences with legislators, while also asking where their elected representatives stood on several key bills, including: 

  • House Bills 31 and 135 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) and Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which would increase money for public schools by switching to enrollment-based funding 
  • House Bill 882 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would tie increases to the state basic allotment for schools to the Consumer Price Index 
  • House Bill 1548 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would provide teachers and certified school staff with a $15,000 raise and support staff with a 25% raise 
  • House Bill 301 by Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford), which would provide retired educators with a 6% cost-of-living increase to their pensions 

You can find more information on these bills and others that support our Respect Agenda on our bill tracking webpage. (Bookmark it because it will update!)

Member photos from the day, from left to right: Socorro AFT members with Sen. César Blanco (D-El Paso); Alliance/AFT member Angela Brown with Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas); and Brownsville Educators Stand Together members with Sen. Morgan LaMantia (D-Brownsville)

‘People’s Hearing’ Puts Educators in Decision-Making Seats 

In the afternoon, Texas AFT hosted a “People’s Hearing” in the Texas Capitol’s Agricultural Museum. A small committee of current and retired teachers and school staff members shared their stories and heard invited testimony from several legislators and policy experts. 

“I am here today to bring light to the fact that as a full-time employee, a manager for six years in the district, last year, my gross income was $20,132.17 to support my two children,” said Pearl West, a child nutrition manager at Northside ISD, in remarks to attendees. “I feed several hundred hungry students a day, and I struggle to feed my own two.” 

The People’s Hearing gave Texas AFT members the opportunity to hear testimony from experts and lawmakers, including Sen. Morgan LaMantia (D-Brownsville), Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas), Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), and Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston). Photo by Win O’Neal, CCR Studios.

Reps. James Talarico, Alma Allen, and Venton Jones, as well as Sen. Morgan LaMantia, outlined bills they have filed that address needs identified by Texas school employees for substantial raises, increased staffing investments, and quality-of-life improvements. 

Additional expert testimony was provided by: 

  • Dr. David DeMatthews, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin
  • Chandra Kring Villanueva, director of policy and advocacy for Every Texan
  • Elaine Jones, treasurer for the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans.  

You can watch a recording of the hearing on Texas AFT’s Facebook page.  

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo, flanked by presidents of AFT local unions in Texas, speaks to educators at a rally outside the Texas AFL-CIO. Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios.

Rally for Public Education Unites Public School Against Vouchers 

To end the day, participants made their way down the street to the Texas AFL-CIO. There, they heard from not only public school stakeholders like teachers, parents, and students, but also from a variety of allies.  

Speakers at the event included Lynn Davenport, a strong opponent of both privatization and data harvesting in education technology; Dr. Michael Bell, senior pastor at Fort Worth’s Greater St. Stephen First Church-Baptist; and Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education Foundation.  

The resounding message: how can the state of Texas be looking at implementing school voucher programs that have cost other states billions of dollars when it sits at 39th in the nation already for public-school funding.  

“If we were fully funded, we would not be losing teachers left and right,” said Capo, pushing back on Gov. Greg Abbott’s assertion that he has “fully funded” public education. “If we provided the supports necessary, we wouldn’t lose 50% of our new teachers every year.”  

Couldn’t join us in Austin? No problem. There are a number of ways to make a difference this legislative session: