Feb. 17, 2023: TEA Deputy Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

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

Friday, Feb. 17, 2023

The Campaign to Defund Public Schools Picks Up Steam

Text reads: Governor Greg abbott touts all-time high in texas per-student funding, but he's wrong.

This has been a whirlwind week in the world of Texas education. We’ll cover much of it in this newsletter (TEA scandal! State of the State! Dan Patrick’s priorities!), but the main theme: vouchers and their impact on public school funding — and, by extension, school employee paychecks. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has been touting his public education credentials lately, claiming funding for our public schools is at an all time high. This week, analysis by the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle showed that claim is wrong. 

Similarly, the governor has said repeatedly in recent weeks that his “school choice” push would not threaten funding for already strapped public schools. Raise Your Hand Texas Executive Director Michelle Smith repeatedly proved that claim false in an event with The Texas Tribune this week, but so did, of all things, the Texas Education Agency.

At least, that’s what TEA officials acknowledge privately. In his public comments to the Texas House this week, Commissioner Mike Morath continued to claim vouchers are no threat to public school bank accounts or educator pocketbooks.  

But a joint statement issued this week by the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition — a group that includes Texas AFT and a host of education, community, and policy organizations — says it best: 

“Under a voucher plan, Texas families will be left with fewer choices, poorly funded public schools, and a diminished public education system dedicated to serving all, including those with the greatest needs. Public funds should remain in public schools, the critical hubs of our communities.” 

Read the full statement on our website

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • A high-ranking TEA official was caught on audio advocating for Gov. Abbott’s “school choice” push with a parent.
  • Gov. Abbott has added “educational freedom” and “school safety” to his emergency items for the 88th Legislature. 
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has also rolled out his priorities for the Legislature, which include bills pertaining to teacher pay, school vouchers, retired educator pensions, and attacks on higher education. 
  • The Texas House Appropriations Committee has made its subcommittee assignments, so we know which legislators will be key in deciding issues related to funding for public schools, community colleges, public universities, and the teacher retirement system. 
  • Texas AFT members are joining allies for a Gun Violence Prevention Lobby Day in Austin on Feb. 28.
  • Our Black History Month spotlights continue, with profiles of two esteemed AFT leaders and Rep. Alma Allen.

— Privatization

TEA Deputy Says the Quiet Part Out Loud: Private School Vouchers Defund Public Schools

Text reads: In audio, high-ranking TEA official admits public school funds could drop with voucher-like programs.

In leaked audio obtained by The Texas Tribune this past week, a deputy commissioner in Gov. Greg Abbott’s Texas Education Agency admitted that school voucher programs would defund Texas public schools. 


Steve Lecholop, TEA’s deputy commissioner for governance, was caught on audio advocating for “school choice” to a parent who took issue with her local school district, Joshua ISD. In the audio, Lecholop suggests that the woman share her displeasure with Abbott’s speechwriters and coaxes the woman to that end by stating it would be “a good way for you to stick it to Joshua ISD.”


Lecholop plainly acknowledged that private school vouchers would have a negative financial impact on public school districts. As a result of this financial impact, he said, districts could be forced to reduce their staff sizes.


His exact words include the phrase, “maybe that’s one less fourth grade teacher.”


In a statement responding to the leak, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said, “The deputy commissioner should damn well be fired or resign, but his comments really put a final puzzle piece in place: There is a statewide push — even among presumably non-political agencies — to dismantle public education.”


Lecholop has a long history of supporting school privatization. As a San Antonio ISD trustee from 2013 to 2021, Lecholop supported a proposal to transform Stewart Elementary School into a charter school run by out-of-state operators. Lecholop also was responsible for hiring a superintendent who had a combative relationship with Texas AFT’s local union, the San Antonio Alliance.

Not only does Lecholop’s statement clearly refute Abbott’s own assertion that private school vouchers would not defund Texas public schools, it is another example of the unethical politicization of Abbott’s TEA. The Texas Constitution plainly asserts the state’s duty to create an “efficient system of public free schools,” yet under Abbott, officials in the agency entrusted with that duty are actively undermining public schools. 

Abbott Adds Vouchers to His ‘Emergency Items’ for Legislature

At his State of the State address on Thursday, Abbott continued to deny that private school vouchers would defund public schools. In a private venue with limited media access, Abbott said that schools would remain “fully funded” even with voucher programs (which he called “education freedom”). 


Schools aren’t fully funded now, even without the state siphoning billions of dollars in education funding to subsidize private schools. 


Abbott went on to say that Texas public education funding is currently at “an all-time high,” but the numbers don’t bear that out. According to analysis by the San Antonio Express News, when properly factoring in inflation, total education spending has gone down compared to when Abbott first took office in 2015. 


We’ve seen momentum on providing every public school employee in this state with a raise, the main plank of our Respect Agenda; likewise, we’ve heard much general agreement on the need to invest in our public schools. Abbott himself mentioned investments, generally, in “school safety” in his address last night. 


All of that, however, is threatened by vouchers. For every student who would leave our public education system with a voucher, a school would lose an estimated $10,000 in funding. Given most Texans’ feelings about public schools, we know there won’t be a mass exodus of students from public to private schools. But at $10,000 an exit, it does not take many departures to defund public schools for the students who remain. 

After the State of the State address, the governor released his budget recommendations, which sadly put defunding our public schools through private school vouchers up front and teacher pay raises as a lower priority. In those recommendations, he doubled down on his insistence on pay-for-performance schemes like the “Teacher Incentive Allotment” (TIA).

— Texas Legislature

Bad Bills of the Week: Dan Patrick’s Politicized Public Education Priorities

This Monday Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released his list of priority bills for the legislative session. While the announcement did not include the actual language for the bills, it did include a few words describing what each bill would do. 


The five bills pertaining to public education and the five pertaining to higher education are:

  • Senate Bill 8: Empowering Parental Rights – Including School Choice
  • Senate Bill 9: Empowering Teacher Rights ­­– Teacher Pay Raise
  • Senate Bill 10: Adding 13th Checks for Retired Teachers
  • Senate Bill 11: Keeping Our Schools Safe and Secure
  • Senate Bill 13: Protecting Children from Obscene Books in Libraries
  • Senate Bill 15: Protecting Women’s College Sports
  • Senate Bill 16: Banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Higher Education
  • Senate Bill 17: Banning Discriminatory “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) Policies in Higher Education
  • Senate Bill 18: Eliminating Tenure at General Academic Institutions
  • Senate Bill 19: Creating A New Higher Education Endowment Fund

You can find our explanations and deep concerns about each of these bills, in full, on our website.

— Retirement Security

Retiree plus leaders Rita Runnels and Phillis Ruffin standing with Representative Lulu Flores in her capitol office.

The Fight for a COLA: This week, Texas AFT Retiree Plus leaders Rita Runnels and Phyllis Ruffin made the rounds at the Capitol in Austin, talking with legislators and staff about the urgent need for a cost-of-living adjustment for retired educators — a major piece of our Respect Agenda. Here, they’re pictured with Rep. Lulu Flores (D-Austin).

House Appropriations Committee Convenes, Receives Subcommittee Assignments

This past Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for crafting the state’s biennial budget, convened for the first time this legislative session. At the hearing, the committee received testimony from Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Education Commissioner Mike Morath.


At the hearing, Hegar discussed the state’s unprecedented $33 billion surplus, which is 26% larger than the state’s surplus last session. Several lawmakers suggested that these funds be used to fully fund public education. The basic allotment, the core building block for the state’s per-student public education funding, has not increased since 2019, despite the fact that both inflation and state revenues have increased significantly over that period.


Morath testified that if the basic allotment increased by just $50, it would result in an overall increase of $71 per student because other state allotments are tied to the basic allotment. 


Texas AFT is calling for the basic allotment to be increased to $7,075, up from $6,160.

In other news this week, subcommittee assignments also were announced for the House Appropriations Committee. The subcommittee on Article III is the most consequential for public education because these members are ultimately responsible for appropriating the funds to pay for educator raises, a TRS COLA, and any other education funding increases.

Find the full subcommittee list on our website.

Texas AFT to Join Gun Violence Prevention Lobby Day

Texas AFT will join Texas Gun Sense, Giffords’ Gun Owners for Safety, Moms Demand Action, and other gun safety allies for a day of action at the Texas Capitol on Feb. 28.

We must keep our children, teachers, school nurses, and support staff safe through immediate and long-term measures, like reducing minors’ easy access to dangerous firearms in our state. Join us as we call on lawmakers to pass common-sense gun legislation that will save countless lives!

  • 10 a.m.: Pre-rally at First Baptist Church
  • 11:45 a.m.: March to the Texas Capitol
  • Noon: Rally at the South Steps
  • 1 p.m.: Meetings with Legislative Offices

Texas AFT members who participate will be grouped with other activists to visit legislative offices.


Please RSVP for this event via Mobilize. If you can’t attend but want to advocate on this issue, let us know by clicking the link above. 

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Socorro AFT Donates $10,000 in Goods to Asylum Seekers

As unionists, we say it frequently: an injustice to one is an injustice to all. Our members in Socorro ISD exemplified that spirit in January, spearheading a donation drive for people seeking asylum at the Texas-Mexico border.

Socorro AFT led the efforts with support from several other El Paso area labor unions. Together, they were able to distribute roughly $10,000 worth of goods and basic necessities to around 200 people in need. 


Remaining items were given to a local church, which provides meals and services to asylum seekers daily. 


“As president of an organization who fights for human rights, it is devastating to see people sleeping on the sidewalks, with no shelter, no hot water, no hot meals,” said Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT. “ We have a humanitarian crisis that has created an unprecedented strain on our community. The least we can do is help by donating items of necessity to these people.” 


Socorro AFT hopes to schedule another round of donations and distribution later this month.

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.

Photo of Wretha Thomas holding sign that reads: union leader.

Wretha Thomas

Wretha Rawls Thomas is the founding president of Houston Educational Support Personnel. For 15 years, she worked in housekeeping with Houston ISD, where she

noticed how some of the custodians, who were older women, were being mistreated. She began to speak up for them, soon getting labeled as a troublemaker by district administration. This did not stop her.

Nominated by Denetris Jones, vice president of Houston Educational Support Personnel

Headshot of Tony Chenevert

Tony Chenevert

Born and raised in Detroit, Tony Chenevert began his education career in 1968, becoming a union building leader for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. In the mid 1980s, Chenevert moved to Dallas and began teaching English at W.W. Samuell High School. There, he became a member of Alliance/AFT and continued his union involvement, becoming a strong building leader.

Nominated by Rena Honea, president of Alliance/AFT

Headshot of Representative Alma Allen.

Rep. Alma Allen

State Rep. Alma Allen has been an unrelenting advocate for public education in Texas for decades, as well as a stalwart ally for public school employees in her own community and statewide. Allen has a more in-depth understanding of our public schools than any other state lawmaker, with experience as an elementary school teacher, an assistant principal, a principal, and an adjunct professor.

Nominated by Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers

— 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.

Recommended Reading

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

? Op-Ed: Collective Bargaining for Teachers Raises the Bar for All of Us. Every Texan’s Amanda Posson writes, “Ultimately, our teachers’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. It’s time for teachers to collectively bargain so we can finally achieve the public education system that works for every Texan.” (Texas Signal, Feb. 16)

? The Campaign to Sabotage Texas’s Public Schools. The motivations for these attacks are myriad and sometimes opaque, but many opponents of public education share a common goal: privatizing public schools, in the same way activists have pushed, with varying results, for privatization of public utilities and the prison system. (Texas Monthly, March 2023 issue)

? Focus at Four: Texas American Federation of Teachers breaks down proposed raises for Texas teachers. Teachers across the state of Texas are hopeful for raises after a handful of bills were filed in Austin. The most notable piece of legislation is House Bill 1548 which would give teachers a $15,000 pay increase as well as a 25% raise for other school employees. (KBTX, Feb. 15)