Dear Friends: All politics is local!

Ken Zarifis of Education Austin

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis fires up his members to ask for a 10% pay raise for all district employees. (Photo: Ana Ramirez/Austin American-Statesman)

With less than two weeks to go in the legislative session, there is still much to be decided by lawmakers on matters affecting our members and our schools. Major bills on school finance, TRS funding, charter school reform and community schools are still being worked on by the various chambers of the Legislature and in conference committees charged with harmonizing different versions of legislation passed by each chamber.

I’ve been swapping Haikus with our Legislative and Policy Director, Jennie Kennedy, as we confer on strategy and try to maintain perspective and an ounce of humor.

Here’s yesterday’s:

Thirteen days to go
Still so much yet left to do
Know how it will end?

In spite of the implied uncertainty, there is actually a lot we know about how it will end. The ending, like many great stories, was baked in at the beginning.

Thanks to the work done by our union, organized labor, and allied organizations, legislators arrived in January to a radically changed political landscape brought about by the many pro-public education candidates of both parties elected in primaries back in March 2018, the 12 seats filled by pro-education candidates in the Texas House and the two in the Texas Senate in November 2019.  The plastic cups on the floor of the Texas House the first day of the session that read, “School Finance: The Time is Now!” told the story and foreshadowed what was to come next.

Since the first day of the session, lawmakers have been reacting to our agenda and our message: Enough is Enough! Fund our Schools Now!

While important issues still need to be resolved (we are fighting for a raise for retirees, the exclusion of merit pay from the school finance bill, and raises for ALL school employees), the major contours of what the Legislature will ultimately produce are hopeful. We have good reason to believe billions of new dollars will flow to school districts to support full-day Pre-K, to enable districts to adhere to state class size caps, and for local school boards to provide pay and benefit improvements to all employees who have suffered through a decade of neglect and stagnant wages. Now we’ll be asking you to urge lawmakers to get the job done and succeed in finally addressing a meaningful investment in our students and their educators.

We have remained vigilant throughout this legislative session, showing up by the thousands for our March to the Capitol, maintaining constant contact before and during the session with our local legislators, alerting our members to object to bad bills and to spur on good legislation, and always with our crack team working behind the scenes under the dome.

Now, the fight shifts to the local school districts. Some school boards, weary of a decade of underfunding, are skittish about making the commitments to our school employees that they must, now that state funding will be flowing again. It is up to us to hold local school boards accountable for the resources they will receive as a result of our collective work.

Our local affiliate, Socorro AFT, in El Paso is proposing a 5% pay raise for all employees and a $1500 retention bonus. Education Austin, the elected consultation representative in Austin ISD, broke off talks with the school administration after being lowballed and is now waging a public campaign for a 10% pay raise for all school employees.

These local struggles represent the next phase of our fight. Texas AFT affiliates, whether they have recognized standing through elected consultation like our locals in Austin and San Antonio, or whether they have simply built school board majorities and relationships with school communities and the administration, are at the forefront of this work to make sure our members receive pay raises and benefits improvements at the local level.

It was former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill who said, “All politics is local.“ As this legislative session comes to an end, this observation is pertinent to our present situation. Let’s finish the job by making sure that local school boards use the new money we have fought to obtain from the state to improve the quality of education for our students and to improve pay and benefits for all our members.

In Solidarity,

Louis Malfaro
Texas AFT President

You can follow Louis on twitter @LouisMalfaro