Texas May Revoke Largest Teacher Prep Program’s Accreditation
After a long history of customer complaints, for-profit Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, Texas’ largest teacher preparation program, faces revocation of its accreditation after the program failed to make improvements while on probation after a 2021 audit found the company to be out of compliance in key state standards including admission, curriculum, and governance. The audit also found that the company misled educators with advertising and it did not support candidates with required mentors.
Although Texas Teachers of Tomorrow enrolled nearly 70,000 candidates in the past year, less than 10% of candidates completed the program, with even less earning certification. With the largest preparation program in Texas doing such a poor job of properly preparing educators for the classroom and failing to set them up for success, it is no wonder so many new teachers leave the profession within a short time.
The Texas Education Agency found the company did not meet its terms to improve and is issuing a recommendation to revoke its accreditation. Texas Teachers of Tomorrow is set to present arguments against the Texas Education Agency’s claims before a judge in the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). The outcome of the hearing could lead to the company’s accreditation being revoked or SOAH may grant the company another opportunity to correct the issues.
TRS Board of Trustees Convenes for Quarterly Meeting
This Thursday and Friday, the TRS Board of Trustees convened for its quarterly meeting at its headquarters in Austin.
Texas AFT Retiree Plus executive members Rita Runnels and Phyllis Ruffin provided public comment at the meeting early Friday morning. Rita and Phyllis drove over 150 miles to testify in favor of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for TRS annuitants.
Rita shared with the board her perspective as a teacher who retired in 2008 but has never received a COLA. When she retired, she told the board, a financial planner created her retirement plan with the assumption that TRS retirees would receive a COLA, but that COLA never came. No TRS member who has retired since 2004 has received a COLA.
Phyllis, a Texas AFT organizer in the Houston area, shared stories of financial hardships that she has heard from TRS retirees in her area. Phyllis told the board about a retiree in her area who had to take out 10 high-interest payday loans to make ends meet because the purchasing power of their pension had shrunk significantly due to inflation.
While the TRS Board of Trustees cannot implement a COLA on its own, TRS communicates regularly with the Texas Legislature, and legislators rely on the advice and perspective of TRS to make important decisions for the system.
Phyllis is running to represent retirees and active members on the TRS board. Phyllis needs about 100 more signatures before Jan. 24 to ensure that her name will be on the ballot for TRS trustee. Both retired and active members can vote for Phyllis and sign her online petition.
On the subject of a COLA, TRS received an update from its actuaries on the health of the fund and the feasibility of a COLA. Actuaries stressed the importance of funding any potential COLA in a responsible way. TRS could theoretically fund a COLA out of existing TRS investment funds, but that would put undue stress on the fund and would not be financially responsible.
To responsibly provide TRS members with the substantial COLA they deserve, the state of Texas must appropriate funds to TRS for the purpose of funding a COLA. The least expensive way to fund a COLA is for the Legislature to provide TRS with one-time seed funding. A portion of the state’s projected $27 billion surplus could be used to fund a COLA.
TRS actuaries explained that TRS is one of only two systems across the country in which retirees are not provided with an automatic COLA and negatively affected by federal Social Security provisions, like the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. Retirees in other states can at least rely on yearly Social Security COLAs, even if they don’t have a COLA for their pensions. Texas and Louisiana are the only states with the dishonor of having reduced Social Security benefits while also failing to provide an automatic COLA.
Actuaries explained that a major factor in TRS’ inability to provide regular COLAs is that the state of Texas funds TRS at a lower proportional level than any other state. A total of about 20% of employee payroll is contributed to TRS each month by the state of Texas, school districts, and employees themselves. Every single other state funds their teacher pensions at a higher proportional level than Texas. While TRS is efficient in its use of contributed funds, the system is hampered by the state’s comparatively low contribution level of 8% of employee payroll.
On Saturday, Dec. 3, La Joya AFT, in partnership with the school district and community organizations, gave away 40,000 free books to local children and educators. The event is the latest in the American Federation of Teachers’ Reading Opens the World initiative, which has distributed more than 900,000 free books nationwide.
What We’re Hearing … A Preview of the 88th Legislature
In the weeks leading up to the legislative session, which starts Jan. 10, Texas AFT staff have been attending a host of education events and panels, which have yielded some interesting insights from legislators in attendance.
At an event in November in Lubbock, Rep. Ken King, who serves on the House Public Education Committee, said private school vouchers, as far as he is concerned, are “dead on arrival” in the Legislature. Both Rep. Harold Dutton, chair of the House education committee, and Rep. Gary Van Deaver echoed those sentiments this week at an Austin event hosted by The Texas Tribune. Both Dutton and Van Deaver said vouchers were a fiscal drain on the public education system and that those taxpayer dollars should go toward improving our neighborhood schools instead.
At this point, the message coming from the Texas House is clear: Vouchers are bad for Texas.
Van Deaver and Dutton also offered comments in support of increasing teacher pay and decreasing teacher workloads. They said they recognized that we cannot continue allowing teachers and support staff to be overworked to the point of burnout while also expecting them to provide the quality of education our students deserve without the resources they need.
School safety was also a top concern in these listening sessions. Panelists spoke of the need to step up financially to fill the anticipated gap when federal ESSER funds run out, even as districts continue the work of securing campuses. Van Deaver specifically said we should increase the school safety allotment and leave it to districts to determine what is most needed to address safety and mental health in our schools.
We have also heard a general acknowledgement of the failings of House Bill 4545 from the previous session. The one-size-fits-all solution of 30 hours of accelerated instruction has proven near impossible to implement, and there seems to be a desire to fix these issues in the upcoming session.
Clearly, the priorities of our Respect Agenda are already resonating in the Capitol. We need to ensure we continue our communication with Legislators throughout the session, so that our priorities stay top of mind with our state’s decision-makers. Start today by signing on to our Respect Agenda demands and proving how unifying they are!
The 88th Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 10, and we have work to do to pass real change for Texas public schools & school employees. Texas AFT has rolled out our union’s Respect Agenda, and we want to make sure our members statewide know what’s at stake in Austin.
All Texas AFT members are invited to this 90-minute webinar, led by Texas AFT’s legislative team, about what to expect in the session and how you can get involved.
It’s clear that our union’s Respect Agenda for the Texas Legislature — with calls for teacher and staff pay raises, closing class size loopholes, increasing state funding for schools, and giving retirees a permanent COLA — is a unifying agenda.
Here’s how you can help show that:
Sign on to our demands: If you haven’t signed your name at pledge.texasaft.org, what are you waiting for? Thousands of AFT members and public education supporters have done so already!
Text for Respect on Dec. 12: We want to reach as many of the 656,000 school employees in this state as possible. Can you help us build the coalition we need to win? Join us for a texting mixer on Monday, Dec. 12. All you need is a phone or computer and a passion for public schools.
Spread the word: If you’re ready to fight for the respect you deserve, the biggest thing you can do is take that fight to your own community. Share your support on social media. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about what the Respect Agenda would mean to you. You can even urge your school board to stand with you.
Need a rental car? With rising prices on rentals, you’ll need your Texas AFT discount. Pick any of the major brands, including any that you are loyalty members with, and search directly through our member benefits site at UnionPlus.org.You’ll save up to 35%!
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