Dec. 1, 2023: Thankful for the 84

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

Friday, Dec. 1, 2023

Teaching the truth

On Monday, Nov. 27, Texas State University officially dedicated the Shirley R. Harris Student Lounge, honoring a civil rights trailblazer and 40-year San Antonio educator. 

Shirley Harris was the first Black graduate from the university (then known as Southwest Texas State College), earning her bachelor’s in education in 1967. On Monday, her brother Dwight, former president of Victoria AFT, cut the ribbon to dedicate the lounge in her honor. 

We bring this to your attention not only because it involves one of our union brothers, but because we know Shirley Harris is far from the only Texan of color and Texas woman whose achievements have gone unrecognized for far too long. 

As we navigate a political climate in this state that prioritizes book bans and classroom censorship, we redouble our efforts to do what educators are charged to do: teach the truth, even the uncomfortable parts. 

We’re glad Texas State students will have a greater understanding of their university’s history. We want the same for all Texas kids. 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • The fourth special session is still technically going …

  • You have opportunities to weigh in on new instructional rubrics from the State Board of Education & a proposed rule to close firearms loopholes at the federal level. 

  • The Social Security Fairness Act finally got a subcommittee hearing last week in Congress. 

  • The State Board for Educator Certification has a big meeting in December on potential changes to educator certification in Texas.

— Texas Legislature

4th Special Session Winding Down

Image reads: News from the special 88th legislative session.

The fourth special session has been an exercise in persistence. This special session started slowly, but, over the course of several weeks, picked up pace and then reached a climax on Friday, Nov. 17, a milestone for nearly a year’s worth of advocacy against vouchers.

Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) crafted an omnibus bill (HB 1) in the fourth special session that included vouchers, accountability reform, and some additional school funding. On Friday, Nov. 17, Buckley opened the full House debate on HB 1 with an amendment to his bill, which opened the door for voucher opponents. 

Rep. John Raney (R-Bryan) then introduced an amendment to Buckley’s amendment, which struck the entirety of Article 6 from HB 1, removing the language that contained the bill’s expansive education savings account (ESA) provision. This amendment passed on a bipartisan vote of 84-63.

Vouchers were effectively dead in this special session after the vote on Raney’s amendment, but Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) put the final nail in vouchers’ coffin with a motion to prohibit reconsideration of Raney’s amendment. Price’s motion was also approved by a bipartisan majority.

Raney, Price, and every member who voted with the bipartisan coalition deserve recognition and thanks for protecting public schools by voting to remove vouchers from HB 1. You can send an e-letter to thank all 84 legislators who voted against vouchers with Texas AFT’s online tool. 

Abbott has promised to continue his campaign for “school choice” in the Legislature and at the ballot box. For now, it is unclear whether or not he will call a fifth special session to push for education savings accounts, but we will resist Abbott’s efforts to destroy public education by privatization for as many special sessions as it takes to defeat his voucher scam.

The fourth special session ends Dec. 6, but there are no signs of movement on vouchers or bills addressing any other issues.

— State Board of Education

Action Needed: Special SBOE Meeting Dec. 13 on Instructional Materials, Library Books

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

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is holding a special called meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13, to take action on a few issues before the end of 2023. 

First, the board intends to review and approve the rubrics for the new Instructional Materials Review and Adoption Process (IMRA) required by House Bill 1605. The public comment portal is open through Friday, Dec. 15. Teachers from K-8 English or Spanish language arts and reading (ELAR/SLAR) and K-12 mathematics should submit feedback on the quality rubrics.  

The reason for the “extra” meeting is to put the new review and approval process in motion in time for the 2024-2025 school year, allowing districts to access extra funds ($40 per student) appropriated in the bill by choosing to use the “high-quality instructional materials” adopted by the SBOE. The board also will make final decisions for the review process and the suitability rubric. 

Second, the board will consider the collection development policy required by HB 900 and created by the Texas State Library and Archive Commission (TSLAC). Though the SBOE is not required to engage in rulemaking on this policy, it is required to put the TSLAC policy to an up-or-down vote.

— Social Security

Congressional Subcommittee Takes Up Social Security Fairness

Last week, the U.S. House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee convened at a unionized firehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to discuss Social Security fairness for the more than 100,000 public employees negatively affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO).

The primary bill discussed at the hearing was H.R. 82, The Social Security Fairness Act, which would repeal this pair of pernicious provisions.

We’ve got a full recap of the meeting on our website.

— Gun Reform

Call to Action: Submit Comments on Rule That Would Close Firearms Loopholes

The Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) took a significant step forward in the fight against gun violence last week. Acting on President Joe Biden’s executive order, the agencies introduced a crucial new proposed rule to expand background checks on firearms purchases

This rule aims to save lives by expanding background checks to individuals involved in commercial firearm sales. Currently, some gun sellers exploit a gap in law, avoiding background checks for firearms sold through online ads and at gun shows. 

This proposed rule announcement coincided with the fourth anniversary of the tragic 2019 Midland-Odessa mass shooting spree, in which eight people were killed and 25 people were injured. The shooter acquired the weapon through the same loophole this rule is attempting to address. 

The public comment period for this proposed rule change is open through Dec. 7, 2023. With the deadline rapidly approaching, we need your help closing this background check loophole. March For Our Lives, a student-led organization advocating for gun-reform legislation, has launched this form to make submitting a comment easier.

— State Board for Educator Certification

SBEC Preview: Educator Preparation and Assessment Changes

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will meet in Austin next week on Dec. 7-8. This will be a highly consequential meeting as the board will be taking up major changes to both how educators are trained and certified in Texas. 

SBEC has rulemaking authority over how educators are trained in Texas, including traditional university preparation and alternative certification. Over the last several months, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff have been engaged in a major update and reorganization of these rules. Included in this overhaul are: 

  • increased requirements for the intern certificate

  • new metrics for the continuing review process for preparation programs

  • the inclusion of the new residency pathway (also called an “enhanced certificate”)

The other major decision the board will make relates to a proposed new educator certification exam. Longtime Hotline readers will remember that Texas AFT was part of a coalition that helped defeat the edTPA exam in June 2022. Part of the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) justification for the rejection of the exam was that edTPA was not fully aligned to Texas educator standards, and the SBOE recommended the SBEC consider another option developed specifically for Texas. 

Against the consistent feedback of stakeholders, the SBEC has moved forward with a request for proposal process for developing this new certification exam. We expect to hear a robust discussion in the room pertaining to the details of this proposal and how and when it might roll out in the coming years.

— Student Debt

Important PSLF Deadline Approaching Dec. 31

AFT settled a landmark court case in October 2021 that set in motion significant, but temporary, changes to the eligibility requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Since that time, we have heard from hundreds of members who have had their entire loan balances wiped away thanks to our union’s efforts. 

With these rules, you could have your entire debt balance forgiven, but you must apply before the end of 2023 to benefit from the temporary PSLF waiver and income-driven repayment readjustment. This now applies to Parent Plus Loan borrowers, but only for a limited time!

You can apply for PSLF even if you haven’t made 120 payments over 10 years, but this eligibility waiver ends Dec. 31, 2023. Even if you have only made some payments to qualify for PSLF, applying before the end of the year may move you significantly closer to achieving loan forgiveness because you may get additional credit for more payments and for periods of deferment or forbearance that exceed 12 months consecutively or 36 months total. 

Don’t miss out! Learn more about the steps you should take on AFT’s website. You can also join one of AFT’s virtual Student Debt Clinics for members to learn more about how to address their student debt and find the most affordable options for borrowers.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Texas teachers are struggling financially. The school voucher war killed a salary raise. Many Texas public school teachers are struggling financially. Recent data shows their annual salaries are nearly $8,000 less than the national average. The Texas Newsroom talked to teachers from across the state who said losing that salary bump was worth it if it keeps school vouchers at bay. (KUT, Nov. 30) 

📖 TEA launches special investigation into San Antonio-based charter network Great Hearts Texas. The Texas Education Agency has launched a special investigation of Great Hearts Texas, a San Antonio-based charter network that last month accused its Arizona parent organization of illegally siphoning millions of dollars from its state funding. (San Antonio Express-News, Nov. 27)  

📖 GOP states are embracing vouchers. Wealthy parents are benefitting. Republican-controlled legislatures in Florida, Iowa, Arkansas and elsewhere passed massive expansions to school vouchers this year, fueled by anger over pandemic-era school closures and disagreements over what kids are taught. The new vouchers in many cases lift — or even eliminate — household income caps, giving wealthier families state cash to send their kids to private schools. (Politico, Nov. 22)