Texas House makes quorum: Hearings begin on the governor’s call
The Texas House—shutdown for nearly the entire first special session and for the first 12 days of the second with the absence of protesting Democrats—achieved a quorum Thursday with the return of three more Democrats. The House promptly got to business setting hearings for a host of bad bills. Uncertain, however, is whether that quorum will hold with possible absences from illnesses, such as recent lawmakers testing positive for COVID-19.
On Monday, the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies will hear SB 1, an elections bill passed by the Senate that seeks to limit access to voting. Tuesday’s Public Education Committee will hear HB 28 and SB 3 (addressing so-called critical race theory, civics curriculum requirements, and prohibitions), SB 2 (forcing transgender students to compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at birth), and SB 15 (virtual instruction). All of these bills have passed the Senate, and Texas AFT has strongly opposed bills that restrict teachers’ free speech or harm children. With regard to near-term virtual instruction, a group of Democratic House members has sent Gov. Greg Abbott a letter urging him to authorize TEA to provide full funding for virtual instruction to address safety concerns. Texas AFT is closely monitoring the virtual education bill to ensure educator concerns are addressed.
The House Appropriations Committee will hear SB 7, which would provide a 13th check supplemental pension payment to TRS retirees. This legislation should have passed in the regular session this spring, but was stymied by lawmakers who were unwilling to fund the bill and later made it part of the political rhetoric surrounding the special session. Texas AFT strongly supports this bill for temporary relief until a full cost-of-living pension increase can be achieved.
As legal wrangling continues, more districts step up for safety with mask requirements
- With millions more kids now in classrooms, Delta variant cases rise dramatically.
- TEA revises public safety guidelines on reporting cases.
This week, Attorney General Ken Paxton attempted to intimidate school districts—who defied his order prohibiting mask mandates—by listing them on the web, threatening to sue them, and encouraging people to notify him of “violators.” The 70 districts listed as of this morning are a small fraction of the some 1,200 Texas districts overall, but they represent many large urban and suburban schools that make up the bulk of the state’s student population.
The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday denied Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to intervene incounty mask mandates issued in Harris and Travis counties. The court made its decision based on a procedural technicality, not the actual facts of the case. As the reasoning for their denial of Abbott’s request, the court cited the fact that Attorney General Ken Paxton had filed his request with the Texas Supreme Court without first having gone to the lower Court of Appeals. The request will presumably now be made to the appeals court.
TEA announced yesterday in its updated public health guidance that mask provisions will not be enforced “as the result of ongoing litigation. Further guidance will be made available after the “court issues are resolved.”
At the National level, President Joe Biden directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “to take additional steps to protect our children” from governors banning mask mandates or penalizing districts that enact them. Cardona said he would ask the U.S Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office to investigate states that block local mask requirements.
Regardless of the legal battles, the fact is that districts are already seeing significant spikes in COVID-19 infections related to the highly transmissible Delta variant. Some rural districts are facing closures, while others are seeing the highest number of single-day positive cases over the course of the pandemic.
Texas AFT continues to encourage mask use and allow local decision-making on requirements to allow districts to respond quickly to unsafe conditions.
- See our Back to School for All page on our campaigns to promote safety
- Send your online letter urging Gov. Abbott to drop his order and let local districts decide on safety protocols.
New TEA release clarifies guidance requiring more virus notifications
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released a new public health guidance to school districts. This guidance mostly acts as a clarification of previously released guidance for the new school year.
One of the most notable clarifications is that school districts are now required to notify teachers, staff, and families of all students in a classroom or extracurricular group if any student, teacher, or staff member that has interacted with that group tests positive for COVID-19. Previous guidance from the TEA did not specifically require school districts to notify the families of students in a cohort with a positive COVID-19 test. Only families of students in the cohort are required to be notified of a positive case within their cohort, not the entire school.
As noted above, the TEA has clarified that they will not be enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order forbidding mask mandates in school districts. The guidance requires schools to prohibit any student or staff member who tested positive or is suspected of being actively sick with COVID-19 from attending school in person. The guidance does not include information on pay for staff, should they have to quarantine for any reason.
Policy group releases report on census data showing majority of population growth is in communities of color
The Texas Legislative Study Group (LSG) Caucus released a report and analysis of the recently-released 2020 census data. The report primarily focuses on the population growth patterns of different racial groups and the implications that this growth would have on redistricting.
Over the past decade, Texas’ population has grown by more than 4 million, more than any other state over the same period. The LSG report points out that over 95% of that population growth is for communities of color, chiefly the Hispanic community which makes up nearly 50% of the total population growth. The Black and Asian communities made up 14.7% and 15.4% of the population growth. The non-Hispanic white population accounts for only 4.7% of the population growth, despite making up nearly 40% of the state’s total population.
Texas’ huge population boom has resulted in the state being awarded two additional congressional districts. Because nearly all of the state’s population growth has come from communities of color, the LSG suggests that both new congressional districts should be drawn to represent communities of color. If the districts are not drawn to represent communities of color, the LSG claims that would show a clear intention to disenfranchise those communities.
Because of the delay in the release of the census data, it is unknown when redistricting will occur. Texas law states that redistricting should occur at the first regular session after the release of census data. That would have been this spring, but due to the delay, the next regular session won’t be until 2023. Despite the law, Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that he will call a special legislative session for redistricting.
The Texas Legislative Study Group is an official caucus made up of members from both chambers of the Texas Legislature that provides nonpartisan policy analysis and support to the Texas Legislature.
TRS to host Facebook Live presentation on plans for new agency headquarters
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is considering a move from its current downtown Austin office to one in the Mueller development area in Central East Austin, with a new building estimated to cost between $250-300 million. However, the agency projects that the savings and revenue generated by the move will more than offset the cost in the long run.
TRS has long been considering the need to relocate its facilities to accommodate staffing increases and growing agency responsibilities. The Facebook Live event—set for August 26 at 12:30 p.m. on TRS’s Facebook page—is part of the agency’s’ efforts to engage with members on these relocation plans. The TRS Board of Trustees will vote on the future of the agency’s headquarters at its September 16-17 meeting. Questions, comments, and feedback on the presentations can be sent to MovingForwardComments@trs.texas.gov.
TRS also has reported that the purchase would not affect the actuarial soundness of the pension fund. For more information about the possible move and the agency’s fiscal status, see the TRS Q&A on long-term facilities planning.
La Joya AFT working hard to keep members safe
La Joya AFT has recently achieved a number of significant victories in pursuit of safe campuses. Early this past week, they were able to push their local school district to sue Gov. Abbott over his executive order limiting a school district’s ability to mandate the use of masks. The district also announced that they will be requiring the use of masks despite Abbott’s order. La Joya AFT President Brenda Salinas gave public comment during the emergency meeting, and her words pushed the board into acting in the best interest of teachers and students by filing the lawsuit.
La Joya AFT also began implementing their COVID-19 response grant by purchasing carbon dioxide sensors for La Joya ISD schools to identify classrooms that have poor ventilation and poor indoor air quality. Earlier this year, La Joya AFT received a $40,000 grant from the AFT Innovation Fund to be used for this purpose.
AFT Trauma Counseling Member Benefit
Being an educator or a school healthcare employee can be mentally draining, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Educators and healthcare professionals want to offer compassion and empathy to students, primarily to those who have experienced trauma. However, this often causes emotional fatigue as empathizers take on the trauma of their victims. Secondary trauma may take a toll in a variety of ways, making it difficult to function both professionally and personally. AFT offers FREE Trauma Counseling for all active and on-leave members of the union. For more information, log in to your member benefit portal.
Bridges Institute offers Mindfulness Essentials series
The Bridges Institute will be hosting the Mindfulness Essentials series via Zoom next month. Beginning on September 15 and occurring on subsequent Wednesdays, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., throughout the months of September and October. These free instructive webinars will help participants better understand their mind and emotions. CPE credit will be issued per hour of participation. Sign up for the webinars here.
In addition to the instructive webinars, The Bridges Institute will also host weekly practice sessions in which participants can take part in guided meditation. These sessions begin September 20 and occur on subsequent Mondays, from 6:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., throughout the months of September and October. Sign up for the practice sessions here.
Texas AFT unions in the Valley will hold citizenship clinics in August
Our local unions in the Rio Grande Valley will be co-hosting a citizenship clinic in McAllen on August 28. The “Together We Rise” clinic will help guide permanent residents to full citizenship. Applicants must attend an informational forum before the clinic. Find all the details here.