April 7, 2023: The House Budget Updates

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

Friday, April 7, 2023

We won’t settle for crumbs.

Zeph Capo stands at podium delivering speech.

Photo by Marianna Krueger, CCR Studios.

We’ve turned this week’s Hotline over to Texas AFT President Zeph Capo for an update on some important moments at the Legislature and where we go from here.

Yesterday was a good day for public education but a bad day for public school employees. I wanted to explain to you personally what it all means because there are some things the headlines won’t do justice. 


Yesterday, the Texas House voted on its proposed state budget. All week, we warned you about what was in this budget and what wasn’t — notably, the $10,000 raise for certified staff and 15% raise for support staff we’ve been demanding for the better part of a year


And you responded, making nearly 1,400 calls to your representatives in the past week. You told the politicians in Austin that you weren’t going to go quietly — that you weren’t going to settle for a raise that was less than what you spend out of your own pocket on your students every year


This week was one of the many times I’ve stood in awe of you, my fellow educators and union siblings. Members like Pearl West, a child nutrition manager in Northside ISD, and Tammy Conrad, a teacher in Round Rock ISD — who joined me Wednesday on Facebook — inspire me to fight harder. (If you missed Pearl calling her representative’s office live on Facebook with us, you really should watch it now.)

The Fight for Raises

And we are going to have to fight harder. The Fischer Amendment to the House budget, which would have dedicated funding to $10,000 educator raises, failed Thursday in a vote, 79-66.  


I’m upset by the Texas House’s misguided priorities: tax cuts instead of public schools. Look, I’m a homeowner myself. Of course I want to lower property taxes. We can and should do so by increasing the homestead exemption and prioritizing help for families instead of corporations and wealthy landowners. We already throw away nearly $10 billion of our money every biennium by undervaluing corporate property


While the Senate might have a better mechanism to distribute tax relief, they get an “F” for their mechanism to distribute a proposed (possibly temporary) pay increase. Senate Bill 9 proposes just a $2,000 allotment for Texas teachers. Teachers who work for districts with fewer than 20,000 students would get an additional $4,000, ostensibly to improve pay equity for rural teachers.  


If done right, such a measure would be a good thing. SB 9 doesn’t do it right. As written, this bill would mean that a teacher in Dallas ISD would receive $2,000, while a teacher next door in Highland Park ISD would receive $6,000. SB 9 would also be a significant windfall for charter school chains in Texas, with the state in line to cover more of their payroll costs. As written, it is likely that even large charter chains like IDEA would receive the windfall. Talk about rewarding bad behavior.  


With an historic budget, why can we not give everyone a $6,000 increase or more? Our public school employees deserve it. 77% of you have told us you’re seriously thinking of leaving your jobs. Unfortunately, it may take 100% of you before the Legislature shows you the respect you deserve.  


I want to thank the 66 representatives who stood with us and voted for a real pay raise for educators especially Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who proposed the amendment and argued vehemently for it. And I want to underscore something for all of us: 75 votes is a tie in the Texas House. Two representatives were present but did not vote. Besides them, we needed to persuade just a handful of lawmakers to change their votes. This issue is in reach if we make ourselves loud.  

Any state budget that fails to prioritize not only teachers but all public school employees is incomplete.

The Fight Against Vouchers

In good news, the Texas House stood firm against school vouchers despite enormous pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott and his fellow privatizers. 


The Herrero Amendment to HB 1, which barred the state from using taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers, passed by a wide, bipartisan margin. 


The push for vouchers isn’t dead — several bills will be heard Tuesday in the House Public Education Committee — but the road just got a lot rougher for Gov. Greg. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and their out-of-state donors to defund our public schools. 


That is worth celebrating. We thank Rep. Abel Herrero for proposing this amendment, as he has done so many times before, and we thank the legislators who came through in entirety for public school employees by voting for both the Fischer and Herrero Amendments .

The Work Ahead

Our fight isn’t over. This House budget has to be reconciled with the Senate version, and the whole thing will be hammered out and voted on again. We still have time to make ourselves heard. 


But we have to get louder. And so I ask you, what action are you willing to take? Will you comment on bills as they come up? Will you write a letter to the editor of your local paper? Will you attend one of our online advocacy sessions? Will you come to Austin to testify


Whatever you choose to do, know that your fellow AFT members are standing alongside you. If they don’t respect us, they can expect us. 

In solidarity, 

Zeph Capo Signature

Zeph Capo

— Texas Legislature

Recap: This Week at the Legislature

Yesterday was a busy and often chaotic day at the Legislature. The Texas House spent the day debating and, ultimately, approving its budget for the next two years with a vote of 136-10. 


The Texas Senate, meanwhile, debated and voted on Senate Bill 8, its primary voucher bill, and Senate Bill 9, its deceptively named “teacher bill of rights.”


There were several notable wins (funding for a COLA!) and losses (like the attack on DEI in higher ed) for public education in both chambers, and we have a full recap of some of the most important on our website. 

There are 54 days until the Legislature adjourns.

— Texas Legislature

Bills to Watch Next Week

As we said, the fight isn’t over. 


Next Tuesday, several more voucher bills will be considered by the House Public Education Committee. Texas AFT is categorically opposed to all efforts to divert public education funding away from public schools.

Texas AFT encourages all community members who are able to testify or register against the voucher bills on Tuesday to do so. The hearing will take place at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 11, in room E2.036 of the Capitol Extension. 


Here are the voucher bills being heard by the committee: 


HB 619 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano)

HB 3781 by Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Richmond)

HB 4340 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls)

HB 4807 by Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian)

HB 4969 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler)

If you are interested in testifying in Austin on Tuesday, please let us know. If you can’t make it to Austin, you can still make your voice heard against these bills by submitting comments through the House’s online portal. Sign up here to get our guide on how to comment.

— Texas Education Agency

Arsonist Vows to Fight Fire It Started in Austin ISD

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis speaks to the press about the Texas Education Agency’s plan, flanked by union members.

Just weeks after the Texas Education Agency announced its plans to remove the democratically elected school board of Houston ISD, it has now signaled its intentions to place Austin ISD under a conservatorship. 

The move comes after a TEA investigation of the district’s special education department, in which the agency discovered “systemic issues.” But as Education Austin noted in its statement about TEA’s plans, many of these “systemic issues” arise from the state’s shameless history of special education underfunding and purposeful underidentification.

— Event

Network for Public Education Discussion on TEA’s Takeover of Houston ISD

Houston Schools Takeover: A Conversation with Diane Ravitch, Domingo Morel, & Daniel Santos

Tuesday, April 18

6 p.m. CT

Register here


This Zoom event from the Network for Public Education will be a fascinating conversation that delves into the politics behind the takeover of Houston ISD, the eighth-largest school district in the nation, and the repercussions for students, teachers, and democracy itself. 

Daniel Santos, an eighth-grade teacher in Houston ISD and Houston Federation of Teachers member, will take part.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 ‘We are in a crisis’: Texas Public Schools on the Edge. Even as Texas sits on a $33 billion surplus, the state, in what seems like an apt metaphor, has offered crap to public schools so far this legislative session. (Texas Observer, April 6) 


📖 Commentary: Vouchers would decimate Texas public schools. As Northside AFT President Wanda Longoria writes, the school privatization movement has a smart plan: starve public schools funding, criticize them for their shortcomings, and erode public trust schools through fear and division. (San Antonio Express-News, April 5)  

📖 Texas bill would allow criminal prosecution of librarians. Sara Stevenson, a former Austin ISD librarian, writes that if Senate Bill 13 is passed, it will bring a culture of fear and intimidation to our schools. (The Dallas Morning News, April 6)