April 26, 2024: A Sorry Week for Texas

Header reads: Texas A-F-T. The Hotline.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Tweet from the A-A-U-P rally in support of the students arrested at the protest.

A post on X (formerly Twitter) from Lily Kepner, the higher education reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, shows UT AAUP President Polly Strong addressing students, faculty, and community members at a Thursday protest, one day after local and state law enforcement agents violently responded to a student-led teach-in. 

A Sorry Week for Texas

Over the course of several hours on Wednesday, more than 100 local and state law enforcement agents, including riot police, responded violently to a peaceful protest on campus at The University of Texas at Austin, arresting 57 people, including students and at least one member of the media.  

To start this week’s Hotline, we share statements from both Texas AFT President Zeph Capo and Texas AAUP-AFT President Brian Evans. We will have more information on this situation in next week’s newsletter.  

Zeph Capo, Texas AFT president:  

“A student was shot to death Wednesday at an Arlington ISD high school. Their death barely made a blip in the news cycle, hardly registering in Texans’ collective conscience. I worry we’ve become numb to the horrors of this persistent violence, but I also know the biggest reason we’re not all talking about what happened at Bowie High School is because Gov. Greg Abbott decided to play cowboy and use a different set of students as his political props.

To be clear, we condemn any hateful speech or actions directed at Jewish or Palestinian peoples. But every Texan has a right to speak their minds, to peaceably assemble, and to protest what they see as unjust. They have a right to do that without fear of being harassed, tackled, or arrested so a politician can burnish his credentials with extremists. By all accounts, UT students’ planned action in support of Palestinian peoples was peaceful and intended to be educational, urging their university’s leadership to take a different course. There is no excuse for the force they were met with, though there is an explanation. I worry about the real lesson they’ve learned from all this: that their lives and the lives of those they protested on behalf of are worth less than the ambitions and comfort of a powerful few.”

Brian Evans, Texas AAUP-AFT President 

“The members of Texas AAUP-AFT roundly condemn the actions of the university leadership, Gov. Greg Abbott, and law enforcement this week. Like faculty across the university, we are deeply concerned for the well-being of our students. They are right to feel betrayed, both by Wednesday’s violent suppression of their rights to free speech and peaceful protests and by the university’s continued overzealous implementation of Senate Bill 17, systematically undoing years of progress in providing a welcoming and supportive learning environment for students from all walks of life. These events are having a chilling effect on teaching and research.

Free speech and academic freedom are not contingent upon the opinions being expressed or the thoughts being explored. Attempting to silence voices you don’t agree with is no way to govern, and the actions of all involved in harassing student protesters were an alarming abuse of power. We are often told by critics of higher education institutions like ours that professors should ‘shut up and teach.’ I’m telling you that in this hostile environment, that is quickly becoming an impossible task.”

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • Over the weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott appeared to call for an “end” to transgender and gender-nonconforming teachers in Texas.  
  • We fact check the governor’s claims that vouchers increase funding for public schools.
  • A rare bit of good news: Book-banning bill HB 900 suffered yet another defeat in court last week.  
  • Early voting is underway for May 4 municipal elections. Here’s your reminder to make your voting plan.  

— LGBTQ+ Rights

Quote from Greg Abbott with dark red background.

In His Latest Attack on LGBTQ+ Texans, Gov. Abbott Calls for an “End” to Transgender Teachers 

In the latest of a long series of alarming attacks on educators, Gov. Greg Abbott has set his sights on transgender educators. During his keynote speech at the Young Conservatives of Texas convention this past weekend, Abbott jeopardized the livelihoods of dedicated professionals and undermined the principles of inclusivity that should form the foundation of our public education system.  


In his remarks, Abbott suggested investigating and potentially revoking the licenses of teachers who are transgender or gender-nonconforming or who discuss gender identity in classrooms.  

— Privatization

Fact Check: Do Voucher Programs Really Increase Public School Funding? 

Governor Abbott’s “School Choice” Claims Don’t Hold Up to the Facts

Gov. Greg Abbott has recently made some bold claims about the impacts of voucher programs like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) on public school funding.  

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Abbott stated that, “In 97% of states with school choice programs, funding for public schools has gone UP” and claimed this shows “School choice helps every student thrive.” He also asserted that “NO funds from public schools would be used for an ESA.” 

However, a careful look at the data and evidence from states with long-running voucher programs shows that Abbott’s claims simply do not hold up. In fact, the reality is the opposite. Even representatives of Abbott’s own Texas Education Agency (TEA) have privately admitted that vouchers would decrease funding for public schools. 

— Event

Educating Texas: Follow the Money 

Tuesday, April 30 

6 p.m. CT 

Texas has the eighth-largest economy in the world and a $32.7 billion budget surplus, but our schools are starved for resources. How did this happen? What can we do to fix it? Can it be fixed? 

Head back to school with Texas AFT for a brush-up on your civics education. In this bimonthly Zoom series, we’re walking through who holds the power in this state, what they’re doing with it, and what we need to build thriving public schools — and a thriving Lone Star State democracy. 

Our next session is this Tuesday, April 30. Throughout the past two election cycles, we’ve seen unprecedented money flowing into races for the Legislature and the State Board of Education. Often that money is coming from billionaires, both inside and outside of Texas, who want to privatize public education. What does this moneyed influence mean for civic engagement in Texas, and what do you need to know? Sign up for this and all other sessions on our Mobilize page. 

Missed our previous sessions? Watch the recordings on our YouTube page. 

— Book Banning

Federal Court Temporarily Blocks Texas HB 900, Citing Constitutional Concerns 

Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider their earlier decision on Texas House Bill 900 (HB 900). The court specifically blocked the provision of the bill that would have required private book vendors to assign ratings to reading materials based on criteria set by the Texas State Library and Archive Commission (TSLAC) and approved by the State Board of Education. This ruling is a victory in the ongoing struggle to maintain a rich and diverse learning environment in our public schools. 


The law, authored by Texas state Rep. Jared Patterson and enacted last summer, was allegedly intended to shield students from “sexually explicit material,” but the broad language of the bill raised concerns about potential overreach and censorship, particularly targeting LGBTQ+ perspectives and authors of color. 

— Elections

Reminder: Early Voting Ends Tuesday for May 4 Municipal Elections 

Tuesday, April 30, is the final day of early voting in municipal elections that will decide seats on some school boards, local offices, and, in some counties, three new seats on property appraisal district boards. May 4 is Election Day. As a reminder, this local election date is separate from the May 28 primary runoff election date. For more information, head to vote.texasaft.org!  

— Event

Event Image.

AFT Book Club: A Conversation with Charles M. Blow

Sunday, May 19 

5 p.m. CT 

Join us for our May AFT Book Club session featuring AFT President Randi Weingarten and renowned author Charles M. Blow, discussing Blow’s memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones. 

Engage with Weingarten and Blow as they explore the multifaceted themes reflecting on the complexities of identity, trauma, and resilience within the backdrop of a segregated Louisiana town. Blow’s ability to weave his personal narrative with broader social critiques makes the memoir a compelling read for anyone interested in the intersections of personal experience and public advocacy. 

Educators can receive one hour of professional development recertification credit for participating in this webinar if they complete all the poll questions, survey, and actively watch the webinar. 

Recommended Reading

Texas education news from around the state that’s worth your time

📖  Facing a $138M shortfall, Cy-Fair ISD trustees contemplate budget cuts. “We should all demand that the legislators that represent our school district be here tonight to see what their work, or lack thereof, has created for the decision makers in this room. Hard decisions being discussed here will have a direct effect on all Cy-Fair ISD staff and students,” said Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT. “We in Cy-Fair ISD have to find the solutions where the leaders in Austin did not.” (Houston Chronicle, April 24)  

 📖  Texas school districts violated a law intended to add transparency to local elections. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune examined 35 school districts that held trustee elections in November and found none that posted all the required disclosures online showing candidates’ fundraising and spending. (Two of the districts did not respond to questions that would allow us to determine whether they were missing these reports.) And the agency tasked with enforcing the rules for thousands of local jurisdictions does not have any staff dedicated to checking their websites for compliance. (The Texas Tribune, April 25)  

📖  Connecting through community schools. In her latest column, AFT President Randi Weingarten says the union is investing in nearly 1,000 community schools, and the Biden-Harris Administration has expanded grants for full-service community schools since taking office — from $25 million in 2020 to $150 million in 2023. These schools let parents, kids, teachers, and school staff focus on learning, working, and building thriving communities rather than struggling to get something to eat. (AFT, April 21)