Texas AFT Twitter storm helps push #StopTheSwap amendment to passage

The House budget also would put Legislature at the helm of distributing fed funds, prohibit private-school vouchers

Just one Tweet in a Twitterstorm Thursday to motivate House members to #StopTheSwap

As the House went through a lengthy debate to pass its version of the state budget Thursday, it also addressed the chorus of demands from educators, business leaders, and others upset that Texas still has not distributed billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid.

Texas AFT members took to social media before the budget debate to push state representatives to accept an amendment by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), which stated that federal aid to Texas public education should be sent directly to schools as soon as possible and not be used for other state expenditures. The amendment was accepted, and it backs up an existing rider in the budget prohibiting federal aid from being supplanted for state spending.

Earlier in the day, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo made clear our position:  “Release the money to schools now!”  

And if there was any question about who legislators think should be in control of distributing federal pandemic relief aid, it was answered resoundingly with, “We the Legislature.” Late in the evening, representatives approved an amendment that requires an “official action” in a “regular session or special session” of the Legislature to appropriate federal aid—including the nearly $18 billion dollars for our public schools. That amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) passed on a vote of 147-0.

The move raises more questions on the fate of the funds, which have been stalled from distribution by the governor and other state officials. The House version of the budget heads back to the Senate and a conference committee likely will settle differences between the two bodies’ budgets.

In total, these three actions by the House form a solid foundation for our efforts to #StopTheSwap, after state officials used the first $1.3 billion in federal aid to cover state budget holes instead of sending it to districts to cover costs from the pandemic.

“Districts have already shelled out millions of dollars on safety measures, building and filtration improvements, and new devices for remote learning,” Capo said. “Some districts have warned they will be forced to lay off teachers without the federal money or leave open positions unfilled, which would negatively impact pandemic safety and learning with increased class sizes. If the money is distributed now, our school districts have detailed plans for using the funds to catch up our kids in academics and to pay for things to keep schools safe in the pandemic.”

House continues its rejection of private-school vouchers

The House passed a budget amendment by Rep. Abel Herroro (D-Robstown) prohibiting vouchers on a vote of 115-29. Representatives passed similar amendments and bills by large margins in previous sessions, signalling that—at least in the House—legislators have no appetite for letting taxpayer money fund private education. The amendment doesn’t allow funds appropriated in the state’s budget to be spent on a public education voucher program, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program if it uses federal funds or state tax dollars to pay tuition or other expenses for primary or secondary education.

School finance bill preserves teacher pay raises, prevents salary cuts

HB 1525 (Dan Huberty, R-Humble) is a large-scale set of tweaks to the school finance bill, HB 3, passed in 2019. The bill passed the House on Thursday with an important amendment by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) that preserves educators’ salaries, including raises they might have received in 2019-2020 as part of the salary incentives in HB 3. As long as the employee remains employed by the same district, they will be entitled to compensation that is at least equal to the compensation they received for the 2019-2020 school year. Texas AFT wholeheartedly supported the amendment. Educators have been through a rough year and earned their compensation 10 times over. It would be shortsighted to see their salaries reduced because of the pandemic’s continuing affects on our communities and our schools.

Bill preventing trans students from participating in sports still in limbo

Previously, the Senate passed SB 29 (Charles Perry, R-Lubbock), which would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” The House version of the bill, HB 4042 (Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant), had a hearing last week in the House Public Education Committee, but the committee chair left it pending with reports that there were not enough votes for passage. Texas AFT continues to oppose these bills, which amount to state-sanctioned discrimination. 

Senate Education Committee passes two very bad bills

SB 1716 (Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood ) is a special education voucher promoted by groups like the American Federation for Children and Texas Federation for Children, which testified for the bill and, combined, have spent more than $1 million on Texas elections in 2020 in efforts to privatize Texas public schools. Texas AFT, the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, and other education advocacy groups from the disability community all opposed the bill and will continue to fight it. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee last week.

SB 1365 (Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston) would give the appointed commissioner of education even more power to remove local school boards—because of accountability sanctions or questions over financial management—and replace them with state-appointed boards of managers. This bill, intended to clear the way for the state’s legal arguments in the attempted takeover of Houston ISD, would have significant consequences for districts across the state. Committee members had little time to review the committee substitute but agreed to pass the bill out of committee and address additional concerns on the floor.

House committee passes bills on nurse notifications, pre-K class-size limits, and admittance to charter schools

On Friday, the House Public Education Committee voted out nearly 50 bills. Among those were some key Texas AFT priorities including:

HB 2846 (Garnet Coleman, D-Houston) would require schools without a full-time nurse or equivalent for more than 30 consecutive instructional days to notify parents/guardians. While this bill passed both chambers in 2017, the governor vetoed it.

HB 41 (James Talarico, D-Round Rock) requires public pre-K programs to enact a class-size limit of 22 students. However, districts would be allowed to apply for exemptions.

HB 97: (Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin) would prohibit charter schools from discriminating against students on the basis of any kind of discipline history.

Coming this Week

SB 28 (Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston), which passed the Senate, now heads to the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday for a hearing. This bill would pave the way for rapid charter-school expansion by allowing charters special perks not available to real public schools with elected governance. You can read more on the collection of bad bills promoting privatization here.

Good Bill of the Week

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

The Texas Legislature is currently in session and Texas AFT is tracking and watching bills that support the needs of our teachers, students, and school support staff. SB 1790 (Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio) creates restrictions on the amount of paperwork that a public school teacher must provide in lesson plans. This legislation helps reduce redundant and unnecessary paperwork and reduces the amount of time educators have to spend on administrative duties, leaving them more time to focus on teaching.