Dec. 8, 2023: COLA Controversies

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

Friday, Dec. 8, 2023

You tracked your working conditions.
Here’s what we learned.

This fall, over 600 K-12 and higher education employees participated in Texas AFT’s Strive to Thrive working conditions project. It was the largest statewide effort of public school employees in Texas to document the real issues in our schools.

Every week from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, participants tracked certain key aspects of their workdays (and work evenings and work weekends) and submitted the data to us. We’ve now had the opportunity to digest all that you reported during that month. 

Read our full breakdown of the findings on our website, where we discuss what you reported on: 

  • Working hours

  • Work duties

  • Work expenses

  • Worksite safety

You also can read about what our union plans next to address the issues you reported. 

Also in this week’s Hotline: 

  • The fourth special session has ended, without anything new for public education. 

  • Lawsuits filed by conspiracy theorists are causes for concern for retired educators waiting for COLA checks in January. 

  • Weigh in on two important issues before the State Board of Education’s December meeting. 

  • Reminder: There is an important student debt relief deadline approaching on Dec. 31!

— Texas Legislature

As 4th Special Session Wraps, Retired Educator COLA Faces Legal Challenges

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

This week, the fourth special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott came to a close without a single education bill passed — including Abbott’s private school voucher scheme. At least for the time being, it seems that Abbott does not intend to call another special session, and instead intends to take his thus far unsuccessful and unpopular campaign for private school vouchers to Republican primary voters (more on that later).

This historic victory over vouchers, however, was overshadowed this week by court challenges that threatened to jeopardize the results of the Nov. 7 constitutional amendments election. These challenges jeopardized all 13 constitutional amendments approved by voters, including Proposition 9, which would provide retired educators with their first pension cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in nearly two decades.

— Event

Image reads: Election contests and your C-O-L-A.

Last month, Texans overwhelmingly approved Proposition 9 and the first cost-of-living adjustment to retired educators’ pensions in nearly two decades. Unfortunately, election challenges made by conspiracy theorists have threatened the cost-of-living adjustment included in Proposition 9. 

Though the COLA is still scheduled to be implemented in January, these lawsuits remain a threat to that timeline. Join us Monday, Dec. 11, at 6 p.m. CT on Zoom to discuss the most recent update on your pension raises with special guests Rep. John Bucy III and Katya Ehresman of Common Cause Texas! Register online to receive the Zoom link.

— State Board of Education

SBOE: Public Comments Needed on Instructional Materials, Library Policy

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. Ahead of that meeting, there are two important topics for Texas educators to weigh in on. 

HB 1605: Instructional Materials Rubrics

Among its agenda items, 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:

  1. Visit the Instructional Materials homepage on the Texas Education Agency website.

  2. In the Announcements section, choose the rubric you want to review.

  3. Submit comments through the public comment form. If you want more background and guidance as you review, you can follow along with TEA’s recorded webinars linked on the page.

HB 900: Library Collection Development Policy

The SBOE will also 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. 

We are encouraging you to write to your SBOE member to support the policy adopted by TSLAC. While the policy is imperfect (it has to be in alignment with a terrible bill), it stresses the importance of libraries and librarians to our students’ academic and social development and helps prevent parties outside of the district from attempting to ban books. Our friends at the Children’s Defense Fund created a great resource to provide background and help you craft your comments.

Find your SBOE member and email them before Wednesday’s meeting!

— 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.

— LGBTQ+ Rights

Katy ISD Students File a Federal Complaint Against New ‘Gender Policy’

A student-led group called Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT) is fighting back against Katy ISD’s new anti-trans policy. On Monday, Nov. 13, SEAT filed a formal discrimination complaint with the US Department of Education, citing Title IX violations and decrying the adverse effects of the policy on trans students. SEAT focuses on increasing youth visibility and participation in educational policy-making  

This policy prohibits all district personnel from diagnosing or treating “gender dysphoria” or related mental health concerns, citing that district staff are not equipped to deal with these situations. It goes on to mention that the district will only recognize a student’s biological sex, using that as the basis for interscholastic athletic teams, determining which pronouns a student should use, and using district facilities such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and more.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Texas lawmakers urge Houston ISD to restore free Verizon internet program for students. Twelve state legislators representing the Houston ISD area sent a letter to Superintendent Mike Miles on Monday asking him to reconsider a decision to end a program that provided free Verizon internet access to tens of thousands of students. (Houston Landing, Dec. 4) 


📖 After school voucher bill falls apart, supporters and opponents get ready for future fights. Many public school educators and advocates saw the Texas House’s vote blocking school vouchers last month as a forceful rebuke that should signal there’s no path forward left for Gov. Greg Abbott’s top legislative priority this year. But pro-voucher advocates say they will keep fighting for vouchers — both in the Texas Legislature and at the ballot. (Texas Tribune, Dec. 4)    

📖 A New Study Details Gender and Racial Disparities in the Superintendent’s Office. It takes women and people of color longer in their careers to be appointed to school districts’ top leadership positions, and, once they are, they’re usually paid less, according to a new study out of Texas that paints a detailed picture of gender and racial disparities in top school leadership jobs in the nation’s second largest state. (Education Week, Dec. 5)