Feb. 10, 2023: 89% of School Counselors Don’t Feel Respected by Texas

This week’s Hotline is sponsored by Texas AFT corporate supporter Horace Mann. 

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

Friday, Feb. 10, 2023

Shining a Spotlight on School Counselors

Text reads: National school counselor week. 89 percent of school counselors say they don't feel respected by the state of texas.

To honor National School Counseling Week, we’ve given the top spot in today’s Hotline to a Texas school counselor.

My name is Jessica Pecina Lopez, and I am a bilingual school counselor in Austin ISD. 


Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with my elementary students about kindness and respect — helping them to show up for one another in supportive and caring ways.


I taught them about respect, even as I felt none myself. I run counseling groups weekly to help students dealing with anxiety and depression, but I can barely afford the $100 a month for my own counseling sessions to cope with job stress. 


I love my job — I love watching the kids and families I work with grow and thrive — but I go home daily stressed and tired, preparing to deal with additional anxiety about paying my bills.


I know other counselors feel the way I do. Here are some of the comments from counselors from Texas AFT’s 2022 Membership Survey: 

  • “We are understaffed and those who come to work get overloaded with filling in the gaps and are still accountable for our daily responsibilities.” 
  • “The salary is no longer enough to support my family. I’m not able to live paycheck to paycheck. If I’d have known that the expectation for educators was to work solely for the love of it, I’d have chosen another occupation. You can’t prosper simply from passion.” 
  • “The pay is not worth the stress. The medical benefits are expensive. Educators can’t even afford to get treatment because of the high cost of insurance, deductibles, and co-pay. The state and government are aware of the statistics on how educators are overworked, stressed, etc., but aren’t helping us with compensation or benefits. So do they really care or are we just another number?“

All these reasons and more are why I support Texas AFT’s Respect Agenda, and its call for a minimum $10,000 raise for counselors like me. The Texas Legislature must also increase the basic allotment that funds our schools to address the horrible fact that 98% of Texas students attend a school without an adequate number of counselors, social workers, or psychologists.

If we care about our kids — and the people who care for them — that’s the least we can do.

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • The Texas House has made its committee assignments, and we’re optimistic about the makeup of the House Public Education Committee. 
  • The Texas Senate Finance Committee met for the first time this week, and there are some interesting notes for public education. 
  • Black History Month continues with more educators and remarkable Black Texans in the spotlight. 
  • Sign the petition and help Houston ISD educators and families fight back against the threat of a TEA takeover.

— Texas Legislature

Senate Finance Committee Discuss Educator Raises, COLA, Community College Funding

Text reads: News from the 88th legislative session.

The Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for drafting the Senate’s version of the state budget, convened for a series of hearings this week discussing article III of SB 1, the public and higher education section of the state budget. 


Over three days, the committee broached several topics, including educator raises, community college funding reform, a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retired educators, and school safety.


Public Education Funding

Although the current version of SB 1 is just a starting point in the budget process, the only reference to a salary increase for educators in the Texas Education Agency budget is in conjunction with the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), the unpopular pay-for-performance scheme. During discussion of the $65 billion TEA budget, several senators raised concerns about rural school districts not having access to these funds.


Commissioner Mike Morath’s response was that the proposed local TIA programs must be “valid and reliable,” and that “you don’t want this to be a popularity contest.” Both of these statements translate to mean that a TIA program must be closely tied to test scores in order for Morath to approve it. Morath also stated that TIA likely would be included in the recommendations from the teacher vacancy task force. 


Texas AFT’s testimony urged the committee to instead substantially increase the basic allotment to at least $7,075 (the current amount adjusted for inflation), which would allow local school districts to provide raises for all educators and support personnel.


Retiree Benefits and Health Insurance

During discussion of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided testimony relating to the TRS pension fund, TRS-Care, and TRS ActiveCare. 


Guthrie testified that the TRS pension fund is currently valued at $186 billion, making it actuarially sound and paving the way for the Legislature to pass a COLA. TRS can only provide a COLA if the fund is sound. 


Legislators discussed several ways in which a COLA could be funded and structured. Guthrie testified that in order to adhere to actuarial best practices, the COLA should be paid for over a period of less than 12 years. The overall least expensive option for funding a COLA would be to pay for it with a one-time lump sum appropriation by the Legislature this year, but that would also present the most upfront cost to the state.


While several bills have been filed in both chambers that would provide COLAs, ranging from 3% to as much as 10%, the Senate Finance Committee did not discuss a specific percentage this week. 


Higher Education Funding

The committee also received testimony from a variety of university systems from across the state, as well as representatives from community colleges and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). 

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Harrison Keller stated that the growth of Texas’ economy is outpacing our state’s ability to adequately educate a workforce to fill those jobs. Keller admitted that “our higher education infrastructure was really engineered for a different time.” Furthermore, he said that one of the main actions the state can take to begin to address this issue is to increase funds to higher education institutions to allow for high-quality education at manageable tuition costs for students.

— Texas Legislature

Speaker Dade Phelan Announces House Committee Assignments

This past week, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced committee assignments for the 88th legislative session. In his second session as speaker of the Texas House, Phelan dramatically changed the leadership and membership of several key Texas House committees.


Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) will now head the House Public Education Committee, which was previously chaired by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston). Chairman Buckley comes from a family of public educators, and his wife is an assistant superintendent for Killeen ISD. Since he first ran for the Texas House in 2018, Buckley has publicly spoken against private school voucher schemes. 


Long-time champion for public education Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) will serve as vice chair for the committee. New members of the committee include two former school board trustees: Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) and freshman Rep. Charles Cunningham (R-Humble). Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio), a veteran member of the public education committee, also served as a school board trustee for Alamo Heights ISD.


The House Higher Education Committee also saw a significant shake-up with only a single member from the previous legislative session, Rep. John Raney (R-College Station), remaining on the committee. Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) will serve as chairman of the committee, and Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Houston) will serve as vice chair. 

The Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) committee, which will be critical in providing a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to retired teachers’ monthly pension annuity, will be led by returning committee member Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake). During the previous legislative session, Chairman Capriglione authored HB 3214, which would have provided TRS (Teacher Retirement System of Texas) members with a 6% COLA capped at $100.

— Texas Legislature

88th Texas Legislature: Bills of the Week

HB 1974 and SB 764 by Rep. Caroline Harris (R-Round Rock) and Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), respectively, would establish a statewide Imagination Library program in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library or a similar book distribution program to encourage children to develop a love of reading via monthly mailed books to children 5 years or younger. Parton has been a long-time partner of AFT and First Book, helping to provide millions of books for students throughout the United States. 


HB 2048 by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) would repeal the section of the Health and Safety Code requiring instructional materials to “state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense.” This type of law banning the positive discussion of an LGBTQIA+ lifestyle in the classroom is known colloquially as “No Promo Homo” laws. Texas is one of only five other states that still have “No Promo Homo” laws still on the books.


HB 333 by Rep. John Bucy (D-Austin) would establish the School Psychologists Shortage Task Force, which would  conduct a study on the issues related to the shortage of school psychologists among school districts and provide recommendations for how those issues can be remedied.


HB 316 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would add a new section to the Texas Education Code, called “Social Work Services,” allowing  social workers to provide services to students and families in a school or district and a requirement that social workers collaborate with school administrators and other school professionals in order to enhance students’ learning environments.


HB 2090 by Rep. Christian Manuel (D-Beaumont) would create an elective course on community safety, firearm safety, and mental health for 12th-grade students in public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools . 

HB 1976 and SB 438 by Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) and Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), respectively, would exempt students from the payment of tuition and fees, including fees for a dual-credit course, if the student is under the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

— Survey

Tell Us About Your Experiences Voting in Texas 

We know many Texans were affected by major changes to voting rights that took place during the 2021 legislative session, which resulted in problems with mail-in voting, voting for Texans with disabilities, and myriad other issues.


Texas AFT is working to tell the stories of educators who faced barriers in the voting process. We are particularly interested in identifying AFT members who, in any election held in 2022, were:

  • denied the opportunity to vote
  • had their absentee ballot or absentee ballot application rejected
  • had difficulty finding time to vote in person
  • encountered harassment or intimidation at the polls

If you fall into any of these categories, please take a moment to fill out our short form so we can learn more about your experience. A Texas AFT staff member will be in touch.

Sign the Petition: No State Takeover of Houston ISD

Last week, the Houston Federation of Teachers and Houston Educational Support Personnel joined community members and elected officials at a rally against a potential takeover of the district’s democratically elected board by the Texas Education Agency.

“For too many years, the state has given us less funding and less everything than people in my community need,” noted one parent at the rally. “The only thing the governor has given us is year-round test prep that the state calls ‘mandatory tutorials’ and now this takeover. You can have that back.”


Many of the rally attendees mentioned the state’s nearly $33 billion surplus, which could be used to increase school funding and available services. Instead, they said, Gov. Greg Abbott and his TEA are attempting to take over a B+ rated and AAA bond-rated school district on flimsy pretexts. 

Houston Community Voices for Public Education, a group that unites Houston ISD educators, parents, and students in advocacy, has started an online petition opposing the takeover. Sign it and share with friends at bit.ly/nostatetakeover.

For Black History Month, Texas AFT Recognizes Remarkable Black Texans

Texas A-F-T celebrates Black History Month

February is Black History Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Black people throughout history and acknowledge the struggles and injustices of the past and present.


Each week of Black History Month, Texas AFT will highlight both Black Texans from history and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated for recognition by our members and leaders.

We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world. For more ways to bring Black History Month into the classroom, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.

Archive photo of Roxie Byrd

Julia Scott Reed

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Julia Scott Reed became the first Black journalist hired by the Dallas Morning News. Her column, “The Open Line,” ran from 1967 until 1978, cementing itself as an integral part of Black community life in Dallas.

Nominated by Rena Honea, president of Alliance/AFT

Headshot of Coretta Mallet-Fontenot

Danielle Cockrell

Danielle Cockrell has been an educator for 18 years, but that is far from the only important job she holds. Cockrell is the vice president for her local union, Cy-Fair AFT. “We should all be grateful for educators like Danielle,” says Cy-Fair AFT President Nikki Cowart.

Nominated by Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT

Headshot of Maurice Rausaw

Jalen McKee-Rodriguez

Jalen McKee-Rodriguez is an educator who also now represents District 2 on San Antonio’s City Council. McKee-Rodriguez’s inspiration for running for office came largely from his firsthand experiences with students and their families, whose voices were going unheard.

Nominated by Alejandra Lopez, president of the San Antonio Alliance

— Sponsor Message

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Life Happens 2022. All rights reserved.

EML-00247 (1-23)

Recommended Reading

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

? Pawns in the Voucher Scheme. What started in Arizona in 2011 as a $2.5 million state voucher program for students with disabilities has now ballooned to a universal voucher program for all of the state’s students. Texas lawmakers are poised to follow Arizona’s lead. But parents in Arizona are warning Texans to take heed. (Texas Observer, Feb. 7)

? Editorial: Voucher plan would decimate public schools. In a session that should be focused on school safety after the Uvalde massacre, teacher pay and retention, and permanent and equitable school funding, the top education priority for our state’s GOP leaders is vouchers. (San Antonio Express-News, Feb. 3)

? Op-Ed: Ensuring Our Kids Have Schools That Help Them Thrive. Three-quarters of Texans understand that their children’s favorite teachers and librarians and bus drivers and custodians are underpaid and disrespected by the people in charge, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo writes. But an even larger majority — 82% — of parents say that our public schools are places where their child can be their true self and feel supported. That is something worth fighting for. (Texas Signal, Feb. 9)