Dec. 15, 2023: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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

Friday, Dec. 15, 2023

Image reads: Closed for the holidays.

What a Year

We are wrapping things up for 2023. Texas AFT offices will be closed from Thursday, Dec. 21 through Friday, Jan. 5. After one regular legislative session, four special sessions, and an election, we are all ready for a long winter’s nap. 

This will be our last Hotline for the year. But we wanted to leave you with some reflections on a bruising, but not altogether terrible year for public schools. Read on for our thoughts about the year that was and the year that will be. 

Here’s hoping you’re also winding down for the year. May your winter break and holiday season be restful, peaceful, and full of what brings you joy. 

Sincerely and with great solidarity, 

Texas AFT

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • The question isn’t, “What happened in 2023?” It’s, “What didn’t happen in 2023?”

  • Some personal news: Texas AFT has a new secretary-treasurer and hits another historic milestone in our 50th year. 

  • If you do one thing over your break, complete your Public Service Loan Forgiveness paperwork! 

  • We have recaps of three important meetings this month: the State Board of Education, the State Board for Educator Certification, and the TRS Board of Trustees. 

— Year in Review

2023 in Review: The Highs, Lows, & Whoas for Texas Public Schools

It seems like we say this every year now, but 2023 has been an interesting year for Texas public schools, as well as for everyone who works and learns in them. We say “interesting” deliberately. While it seems like there’s a flood of bad news each day, when we look back at this past year, there is still much to celebrate. 

Let’s remind ourselves about the year that was — and all the highs, lows, and whoas along the way, including ballot box wins, a lost legislative session for public education, and the defeat of vouchers in Texas (again).

— Leadership

Texas AFT Names New Secretary-Treasurer with Historic Appointment

Image reads: Texas A-F-T names new secretary-treasurer with historic appointment.

2024 marks Texas AFT’s 50th anniversary as a statewide federation, and now we are marking another milestone: the appointment of the first Hispanic woman to hold one of our state federation’s elected leadership roles.

Wanda Longoria, president of Northside AFT in San Antonio, will assume the role of Texas AFT secretary-treasurer in January 2024, following a vote this week of our executive council of AFT local union presidents across Texas. 

Longoria replaces Ray McMurrey, the former president of Corpus Christi AFT who left the secretary-treasurer role this fall to pursue new business ventures. 

“I want to extend my personal gratitude, as well as the gratitude of our members, for Ray’s years of dedicated service to public education and to public educators,” said Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT. “I am likewise grateful to Wanda for accepting the appointment and stepping up to fill the gap in our union’s leadership. She has been a fierce defender of teachers and school staff in her local district, and I know she will bring the same passion to our fight for the public schools our students deserve statewide.

“That we are entering our 50th year as a state federation with a leadership team that is more reflective of the diversity of our membership, the education profession, and the state of Texas makes this change all the more meaningful,” Capo continued.

— Teacher Retirement System

TRS Board Talks COLA, Pension Fund Health

Last Thursday and Friday, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met for its final quarterly meeting of 2023. At this meeting, the board discussed the financial health of the TRS pension fund and the pension cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that will be applied to the checks of eligible retirees beginning in January.

Let’s make sure to get the most important news up front: the COLA is coming. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie reported that TRS is moving forward with applying the COLA increase to annuity checks for eligible retirees. As previously reported in the Hotline, baseless lawsuits contesting the results of this November’s constitutional amendment election, which included the passage of Proposition 9 that provides funding for the COLA, threatened to delay the implementation of the COLA. A clerical error by the election conspiracy theorists who are contesting the lawsuit, however, allowed the governor to certify the results of the election.

Image reads: C-O-L-A Celebration.

New Year, New COLA! 

It’s official. Voters overwhelmingly approved a cost-of-living adjustment for retired Texas educators. This win could have never happened without the relentless, hard work of by Texas AFT retirees.

We will celebrate this victory via Zoom on Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 6 p.m. CT. Join us! We’ll also use our time together to chart our course for the future. To keep up the momentum for future relief for retirees, we need to grow our movement — and our membership. Join us in January to help.

— State Board of Education

SBOE Recap: All the Rubrics and Library Books

Image reads: Eyes on the board.

At the special called meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE) on Dec. 13, the board discussion focused on HB 1605 requirements, specifically instructional materials review rules, processes, and rubrics, as well as the library collection development policy required by HB 900. 

The quality review rubrics are still under public comment (see instructions to submit by Dec. 15 here), but TEA staff shared the outcomes of stakeholder meetings and the direction of continuing revisions. As a reminder, the SBOE will look first at K-5 English and Spanish language arts and reading (ELAR/SLAR), as well as K-12 mathematics. Based on feedback, TEA staff will be working to reduce the length and redundancy in the rubrics, primarily in ELAR and SLAR. The goal will be to have the SBOE give final approval of these rubrics at its January meeting.  

The board also took up the approval of the Texas State Library and Archive Commission’s collection development policy to align with HB 900. Even though the law is still making its way through the legal system, administrative work related to the bill (like this policy) is being allowed to proceed. The board heard testimony primarily in support of the TSLAC standards.

— Wild Art

This past weekend, members of both Spring AFT and North East AFT hosted Reading Opens the World book giveaways in their respective school districts. Each donated 40,000 diverse, age-appropriate books to their community’s students, educators, and families. Together, AFT and its local unions have distributed more than 1.8 million books nationwide. Read more about our collective effort to create joyful, confident readers.

— State Board for Educator Certification

SBEC Recap: Educator Preparation and Assessment Changes 

T-C-E-P Logo

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin last week on Dec. 7-8. During this meeting, the board gave preliminary approval to two significant proposals affecting educator training and 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”) 


Texas AFT, as part of the Texas Coalition for Educator Preparation (TCEP), delivered testimony that once again hammered home the need to improve all educator preparation routes, especially the intern certificate, and provide clarity in some of the revised requirements for preparation programs going forward. While we support the idea of a teacher residency as a pathway into the profession, there are some logistical and financial considerations that the SBEC needs to reconcile with stakeholders for this to be an effective preparation route in the long term. 

— Student Debt

Important PSLF Deadline Approaching Dec. 31

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program is open to any Texas educators who work for a public or non-profit organization. By applying, AFT members could have the opportunity to have all of their student debt forgiven by the Department of Education.

This is an amazing opportunity for members to take advantage of these programs and reclaim their personal finances and get out from under their debt. 

Changes to the PSLF Requirements 

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. 

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

📖 Prosecutors won’t drop charges against Brownsville ISD honor student. After the Texas Observer first reported last month that 11-year-old Timothy Murray was arrested by the Brownsville Independent School District police and detained in solitary confinement just days after he reported being bullied by his school principal, Myrta Garza, Timothy’s mother had hoped prosecutors would drop the charges against her son. They did not. (Texas Observer, Dec. 13) 


📖 In Katy, Texas, Students Fight Back with Banned-Book Clubs, Pride Events and Political Activism. With culture wars playing out in school districts across the nation, even unlikely communities find themselves embroiled in arguments over race, gender identity, sexual orientation — and, yes, cartoon buttocks. “The worst policies coming out of the state of Texas are taking place simultaneously in Katy,” Nicole Hill, communications director for the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview. “I look at Katy as a petri dish.” (Capital and Main, Dec. 13) 

📖 Sharpstown High School campus in the spotlight over bathroom policy | Teachers union files grievance. A teacher’s union is filing a grievance with the Houston Independent School District over a bathroom policy at Sharpstown High School. The Houston Federation of Teachers said the policy prohibits students from going to the bathroom during class, something the union president said is ridiculous and unrealistic to expect students to plan their restroom time between classes. (KHOU, Dec. 8)