Dec. 4: Houston locals win consultation rights; Will teachers be near front for vaccines?; We don’t need a separate $3.6 billion school system

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Houston unions win consultation rights in district election


Houston educators and school support personnel overwhelmingly elected the Houston Federation of Teachers and the Houston Educational Support Personnel as their elected consultation organizations for Houston ISD. Over 93% of teachers and in-school support staff voted for HFT and 80% of school support personnel (school bus drivers, bus attendants, custodians, and foodservice professionals) voted for HESP. Both unions are affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers.

Consultation is the monthly meeting with district administrators that allows teachers and school support personnel to have a voice in decisions about workplace safety, safe school reopening, class sizes, compensation, and classroom learning conditions.

“Collaboration works,” said Zeph Capo, HFT president. “Teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff know that when they give input about new district policies it improves student learning and helps retain HISD’s amazing teachers and staff….Today’s election result is a win for all HISD students and employees who are putting their health and safety at risk for the good of our Houston community.”

HESP President Wretha Thomas stated, “Blue-collar workers have fought for 25 years for decent pay, good health insurance, and have fought for better working conditions. Support personnel have stood up to upper administration/principals who have shown us no respect and treated us like second-class citizens….We are proud to announce that all HESP blue-collar workers will have a voice at HISD Consultation. No more injustice.”

 

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Will school employees be in the first wave to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Initial word is that educators will be considered front-line workers prioritized for vaccines, but Texas AFT will be fighting to ensure that plan continues

With the delivery of some 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Texas expected in mid-to-late December, school leaders and Texas AFT are urging state officials to put school employees on the list of the first front-line workers who can receive the vaccine. (The delivery announced is for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses, so it would serve about 700,000 people in Texas.)

It’s uncertain at this point how quickly the vaccines will actually reach the hands of doctors and clinics to administer them, but Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said it’s clear that teachers and all school employees should be among vulnerable populations to be offered the vaccines. “We continually hear how important it is to get teachers and students back to in-person instruction, so it makes perfect sense to protect the people that would be on our school campuses,” he said. “Remember, though, with that strategy you are helping safeguard adults on campus, but you’re not adding too much more protection for the students who get infected at school, and then possibly spread it to their families or the community.”

Health-care workers and other vulnerable populations like those in long-term-care facilities likely will be in the top tier for vaccine offerings. School employees (except a reference to school nurses) are not specifically mentioned in original Texas Health and Human Services recommendations for tiers of vaccine recipients. However, data needed from TEA is listed in a Texas Department of State Health Services vaccination plan draft for “Vulnerable and Frontline Populations.” Texas AFT will be fighting to ensure that school employees are indeed included in the initial vaccination offerings.

The vaccine news comes against the backdrop of careless disregard shown in many districts for school employee safety. With spiking infections and hospitalization rates in Texas–as well as the likelihood for even more after the Thanksgiving holiday–many districts have refused demands for instruction to go back to remote instruction up to at least the winter break. Even more disheartening is the increasing trend of districts denying almost all requests for ADA accommodations, such as remote work for those with medical conditions putting them at greater risk.

Unfortunately, state officials like the governor and commissioner of education–despite our call for them to act–are not taking the lead in keeping school employees safe. So, it’s up to local efforts to get the job done, and several Texas AFT local unions and groups have stepped up with safety committees to at least open lines of communications with administrators.

 

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87th Legislature Preview: Texas Can’t Afford Two School Systems

Airplane contrasted with School Bus on IDEA spending

 

Texas lawmakers are facing one of the biggest budget shortfalls in recent history. But even in the headwinds of economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices, lawmakers have an opportunity, one that allows them to fund public schools by walking back unfettered charter school growth. The state of Texas spends $3.6 billion each year to support a second school system, made up of privately administered, but publicly funded charter schools. Texas AFT President Zeph Capo penned an op/ed asking why.

Recent charter school scandals have made national headlines and put a spotlight on how charter school boards have been using public dollars, like IDEA Schools using taxpayer dollars on a private jet and luxury boxes at sporting events. Join us next Wednesday at 5 p.m. as we host a Facebook Live panel with Texas legislators that have filed bills on charter school transparency and accountability. Sign up here!

We’re asking the tough questions about for-profit charter schools because Texans deserve better. As we head into a legislative session where state lawmakers will have to make difficult budget decisions, we must make it clear that Texas is making a bad investment in for-profit charter schools. Would you rather have your tax dollars in public schools or for-profit charter schools? #ProtectPublicSchools

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In Brief:

 

Tina FlouroyAnother good sign that the new administration will have education experts at the forefront

Former AFT public-policy guru Tina Flournoy has been named as chief of staff for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Harris has been trailblazing since the start of the white house transition as CNN reports that 52% of the staff is women and 46% identify as people of color, including Flournoy.

Flournoy previously served as assistant to the president for public policy for AFT. Additionally, Flournoy is one of the many women of color chosen to be on the senior staff and she has extensive government and White House administration experience. She previously served as the Chief of Staff during the Clinton Administration and she has served in many roles within the Democratic Party. She is also a Georgetown Law Alumni. AFT is proud to have Flournoy representing and continuing the AFT legacy in the Biden-Harris Administration.

Education advocacy group offers scholarships for aspiring teachers

Charles Butt logo
Raise Your Hand Texas is offering its Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers for the fourth consecutive year. Raise Your Hand Texas is a nonprofit that advocates support for public education and educators and administrators that run our schools each day.

Raise Your Hand Texas has awarded over 300 scholarships, and this year, they will be awarding scholarships to 100 aspiring educators who attend their 10 partner higher-education schools for education degrees. The scholarship includes $8,000-$10,000 in annual funding for up to four years, professional development opportunities, mentorships, and participation in a statewide aspiring teachers’ network.

Students must be working towards obtaining their teacher’s certification. The goal of the program is to bring the brightest students to the teaching profession to better educate the youth of Texas. The deadline for the scholarship differs for each partner school and ranges from December to April 2021. For more information and how to apply, visit CharlesButtScholarship.org.


 
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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.