April 5, 2024: Starting April Strong

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

Friday, April 4, 2024

April 3 tweet from state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, whose district includes the University of Texas at Austin.

Happy Celebrate Diversity Month … 

Though April is nominally Celebrate Diversity Month, its first week in Texas this year has been far from joyous.  

In response to heightening pressure to enforce Senate Bill 17, the University of Texas at Austin laid off at least 60 employees whose previous roles (they had been reassigned) supported diversity, equity, and inclusion programs 

We have much more on how this direct attack on the freedom to learn came to be, as well as how Texas AAUP-AFT (yes, you read that right) is responding later in this Hotline. For now, though, let’s focus on what decisions like this week’s mass layoffs tell our students. We echo these words from the Austin American-Statesman’s editorial board: 

That’s at least 60 workers laid off not over questions of competence or relevance – but for their effort to facilitate academic success for every student. That’s more than 52,000 students getting the message that their state has marshalled both law and political pressure to remove school-funded DEI offices and initiatives, or staff that perform DEI functions, that allow students to find support, learn about differences, and feel welcome in their academic home.”   

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • It’s the best of times and worst of times for Texas higher education with an historic affiliation between Texas AAUP and Texas AFT and a flurry of attacks from state leaders and lawmakers.
  • Just two weeks after its surprise announcement about divesting $8.5 billion in public school funding, the State Board of Education will soon meet in Austin.  
  • The crusade against public school districts has escalated with the indictment of Denton ISD administrators for alleged “electioneering.” 
  • Texas AFT COPE has announced its second round of endorsements in races for seats on the State Board of Education and in the Legislature.  

— Higher Education

Amid Attacks on Higher Education, Texas AAUP Votes to Affiliate with Texas AFT 

Screenshot of some of the participants in Texas AAUP’s March 30 vote to affiliate with Texas AFT.

Screenshot of some of the participants in Texas AAUP’s March 30 vote to affiliate with Texas AFT. 

Last Saturday, members of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors voted to affiliate with the Texas American Federation of Teachers. This vote marked the first state-level affiliation of the two national educator organizations, and was first set in motion two years ago when the AAUP and AFT voted to affiliate nationally on June 18, 2022. 


The goal of the state affiliation, mirroring the goal of the existing national affiliation, is to unite higher education employees and K-12 public educators in the fight to protect academic freedom and unify faculty voices at the local, state, and federal levels. Texas AFT and AAUP members worked closely together throughout the 88th Legislature in 2023, fending off some of the worst attacks on academic freedom in higher education and the defunding of K-12 public schools through a voucher program 

Recent attacks on higher education in Texas have mirrored attacks leveled at K-12 educators in the past, including pushes for increased censorship, attempts to silence diverse voices, and efforts to remove employment protections for educators. And events unfolding this week have underscored the need to stand and fight together.  


On Tuesday, reports surfaced from the University of Texas at Austin that over 60 faculty and staff who previously worked in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) related roles had been laid off by the university. As of the first of this year, Texas colleges were prohibited from hosting DEI programs and mandatory training due to the implementation of anti-DEI bill SB 17. Additionally, the state budget passed last year prohibits state funds from going toward anything DEI-related. 


These events confirm what many already knew: attacks on DEI are attacks on labor. These 60 employees should neither have lost their jobs due to partisan bickering, nor because of this state’s leadership trying to score cheap political points. 

— LGBTQ+ Rights

Equality Texas Launches LGBTQ+ Campus Climate Project 

Senate Bill 17 mandates the closure of diversity, equity, and inclusion offices on Texas campuses and prohibits mandatory diversity training, raising concerns about the inclusivity of higher education environments. Critics argue that these measures will diminish the sense of belonging for underrepresented groups and impede efforts to build diverse campuses reflective of Texas’s population. 

In light of these challenges, Equality Texas has launched the LGBTQ+ Campus Climate Project to gather data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff across Texas colleges and universities, particularly focusing on marginalized communities most likely to be affected, such as queer and trans people of color. Participants are encouraged to share their experiences through interviews and data collection, providing valuable insights into the impact of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on campus climate. 


— State Board of Education

Image reads: Eyes on the board, with the state board of education logo.

SBOE Preview: What’s on the April Agenda & What’s Conspicuously Not 

While the rest of Texas basks in the total eclipse afterglow, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will begin its regular meeting in Austin on Tuesday, April 9. The agenda appears light after the time-consuming and complex rulemaking related to HB 1605 that has dominated many of the last several SBOE meetings.  

Among other items, the board will take up the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS). These are cross-curricular standards that every Texas teacher is expected to implement in their classrooms alongside the content-area Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). 

Two significant items, however, are not on the board’s agenda: divestment from wealth manager BlackRock and the American Indian/Native Studies course. 

Take Action

Tell the Texas SBOE: When it Comes to Our Investments, Put Performance Over Politics

The Texas State Board of Education recently made a reckless decision to divest $8.5 billion from a major investment fund. We demand that the SBOE reconsider this decision and base investment choices solely on performance and transparency, not scoring political points for billionaire donors.

It’s Time to Stand Up for American Indian/Native Studies in Texas

Since 2020, a committee of native community members and allies have been developing a course in American Indian/Native Studies. We call on all Texas parents, educators, students, and community members to help get the American Indian/Native Studies course back on track for review and approval this year.

“When many of these people look up and find out that their schools no longer have the resources to keep the lights on, it may spark a reckoning and a power shift in this state. And that’s part of what we’ve got to work towards because our kids’ futures are at stake.” 

— President Zeph Capo, with Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson, speaking with Bob Sanborn, CEO of Children at Risk, on KPFT, Houston’s community radio station. Listen to the full March 29 interview here and donate to KPFT here.   

— Elections

Texas AFT has added 2024 election gear to our online store. Pick up a T-shirt, yard sign, or button pack and help fund our fight for thriving public schools at store.texasaft.org. 

Texas AFT Political Action Committee Announces 2nd Round of Election Endorsements 

Texas AFT’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), our union’s political arm, is proud to announce its second round of endorsements for the upcoming primary runoffs and 2024 general election.


With May 28 primary runoffs quickly approaching and a November general election on the horizon, Texas AFT COPE is proud to add the following candidates to our endorsement list: 

  • Colin Allred for U.S. Senate 
  • Gustavo Reveles for State Board of Education Place 1 
  • Jarvis Johnson for State Senate District 15 
  • Nathan Johnson for State Senate District 16 
  • Ruben Cortez for State House District 37 
  • Jennie Birkholz for State House District 52 
  • Michelle Beckley for State House District 63 
  • Elizabeth Ginsberg for State House District 108 
  • Laurel Jordan Swift for State House District 121 
  • Stephanie Morales for State House District 138 

— Elections

Escalation of “Electioneering” Crackdown: Denton ISD Principals Indicted for Alleged Criminal Election Interference 

In a remarkable escalation of the politically motivated legal attacks against seven local school districts accused of violating state “electioneering” laws that prohibit the use of public resources to express support for or opposition to a specific candidate, party, or measure, two Denton ISD school administrators have been indicted by Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson on criminal charges for using their district-issued email accounts to encourage educators and school employees to vote in the state’s Republican primary elections. 


Denton ISD Alexander Elementary School Principal Lindsay Luján and her husband Jesús Luján, the principal of Borman Elementary School, were indicted this week for “unlawful use of internal mail system for political advertising” according to court records, a Class A misdemeanor. In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and a year in jail. Lindsay Luján’s arraignment hearing is scheduled for May 13, while Jesús’s hearing is scheduled for June 4. 

— Event

Event graphic.

AFT Book Club: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat 

Sunday, April 14 

5 p.m. CT 

Join us for our April AFT Book Club session featuring AFT President Randi Weingarten and renowned author Edwidge Danticat, discussing Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying. Engage with Weingarten and Danticat as they explore themes that delve into the complexities of family, identity, immigration, and political turmoil, framed within a deeply personal narrative. Brother, I’m Dying is not only a tribute to Danticat’s family and heritage but also a profound exploration of the themes that touch on universal human experiences. Through her intimate and evocative storytelling, Danticat offers insights into the intricacies of life, loss and the enduring power of familial bonds.

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

📖  Austin Community College offers free tuition for high school graduates. The Austin Community College District Board of Trustees approved a five-year pilot program to offer free tuition for high school graduates and GED completers, starting with the class of 2024. (CBS Austin, April 2)  

 📖  Guest commentary: Texans must demand reform to end extremism, scandal. It’s past time Texans united to reform our scandalous state government, writes former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski. Texas legislators draw their own district lines, essentially choosing their voters; they serve without term limits; state ethics rules allow limitless campaign contributions and candidates routinely lie in political advertising to destroy their opponents and retain power. (Galveston Daily News, April 2)  

 📖  Students held as political hostages. School security and school vouchers have absolutely nothing in common except the word “school” and yet Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to block funding for state-mandated security measures without passage of his pet school savings account legislation. The impact on public schools, particularly those in rural areas like ours, has been dramatic. (Uvalde Leader News, March 31)