Feb. 9, 2024: The Voucher Bait-and-Switch

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

Friday, Feb. 9, 2024

It’s fair to wonder why, after the catastrophic defeat after defeat (after defeat after defeat) of his signature policy priority last year, Gov. Greg Abbott is still pursuing a private school voucher program this election year.  

Texans don’t want it. Legislators in his own party rejected it. And now, the governor is having a hard time getting the folks at his own campaign stops to show enthusiasm.  

Why then? As The Nation reported this week, it’s likely because the richest man in Pennsylvania, Betsy DeVos, and other voucher dark money forces see that their window to dismantle the public education system may soon close. The bills for voucher experiments across the country are starting to come due:   

In Arizona, taxpayers are now staring down a $400 million shortfall, with an even bigger bill coming due next year. How did the Grand Canyon State go from sitting on a huge cash reserve to facing a rising tide of red ink? Simple. Voucher proponents suggested that paying for private school tuition would cost taxpayers $65 million a year; but as it stands, the program is on track to cost roughly 15 times that. All told, Arizona taxpayers are likely to spend close to a billion dollars reimbursing the cost of tuition and luxury expenses—including ski resort passes, pianos, and theme park tickets—for families whose children were never enrolled in the public schools. 

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • We recap all you need to know from last week’s State Board of Education meeting and preview next week’s meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification.  
  • How’s Gov. Abbott’s “voucher revenge primary” going so far? Interestingly, that’s for sure. 
  • Early voting for the March 5 primary election starts Feb. 20! We’ve got questions you should ask any candidate who wants your vote. 
  • On gun violence, there’s good news and potentially bad news at the federal level.  

— State Board of Education

Image reads: Eyes on the board.

SBOE Recap: Reading Between the TEA Lines 

The regular January meeting of the State Board of Education began Tuesday, Jan. 30, in Austin with new Chair Aaron Kinsey presiding. It was a long four days of rulemaking, and our recap highlights a few choice bits of the agenda: 

  • Instructional materials review and adoption process overhaul (House Bill 1605) 
  • Commissioner Mike Morath’s presentation of the Texas Education Agency’s annual report 
  • CTE TEKS and the state’s plan 
  • American Indian/Native Studies course 

— Event

As you settle into 2024 and start thinking about the year ahead, you may be asking yourself questions, like, “Who can make real change in my workplace?” or, “What about my career — who can help me grow and advance?” 

The answer is you.   

This February, empower yourself to build union power and take an active role in your professional development by registering today for one of our union’s biennial conferences providing both worksite leader and professional development workshops. 

Texas AFT’s Bridges Institute Regional Leadership Conferences are taking place this February in Houston (Feb. 10) and the Rio Grande Valley (Feb. 24). Register for one today! 

— Privatization

Unmasking Vouchers: Dark Money in the Texas Primary Elections 

Recently in the Hotline, we covered the $6 million donation received by Gov. Greg Abbott from the pro-voucher Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, highlighting the dark money flowing into the Texas primary elections. This week, we delve into the latest developments in the GOP primaries and their broader implications for our democracy.

In the thick of Texas politics, an intensifying war rages on, fueled by dark money, ideological divides, and conflicting loyalties among Texas Republicans. The recent House District 2 special election and ongoing primary campaigns offer a stark glimpse at the tumultuous state of GOP politics in Texas, revealing a party at a crossroads, influenced heavily by the wealth and will of out-of-state billionaires. 

— Elections

Image reads: Vote with educators.

Election 2024: Vetting Candidates Up and Down the Ballot 

Last week’s edition of the Hotline included the first round of primary endorsements made by Texas AFT COPE (Committee on Political Education). This list of candidates for the U.S. Congress, the Texas Legislature, and the State Board of Education was carefully vetted and approved by our COPE committee, made up of AFT leaders across the state. 


But Texas AFT COPE does not endorse in every race that will be on your primary ballot this March. Texas AFT COPE and our union’s political work are funded by the generous donations from members like you and through our online merch store.Our state federation is a careful steward of those dollars, meaning we cannot endorse every pro-public education candidate across the state.  


To make informed decisions in races in which there is no Texas AFT COPE-endorsed candidate, we have compiled a list of helpful guiding questions you should ask candidates who want to earn your vote.  

Image reads: Texas A-F-T 2024 membership survey.

After a shamefully unproductive legislative session(s) in 2023, Texas politicians are gearing up for this year’s general election, and public education will be a top issue. Your voice helps your union bring facts to the table against a tidal wave of misinformation about our schools.  

If you’re a Texas AFT member — K-12, higher ed, or retired — you should have received an email with a link to take our 2024 Membership Survey. The survey should take 15-20 minutes to complete, and every member who completes it will be entered to win one of five $100 gift cards.  


Check your inbox for an email with the subject line: Texas AFT Annual Membership Survey. 

— State Board for Educator Certification

Image reads: S-B-E-C.

SBEC Preview: Changes to Educator Preparation, Possible New Certification Exam 

The State Board for Educator Certification will meet in Austin on Friday, Feb. 16. We anticipate a few highly impactful items. That includes proposed changes to Chapter 230 regarding teacher certification. This is the item we will watch most closely as the board is contemplating a new Texas-specific performance assessment (colloquially, the TxTPA) as a replacement for the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) exam. 

— Event

Event image.

AFT Book Club: A Conversation with Fred Guttenberg 

Sunday, Feb. 18 

5 p.m. CT 

Join us for our next AFT Book Club Series, featuring a discussion with AFT President Randi Weingarten and author Fred Guttenberg on his book, American Carnage: Shattering the Myths That Fuel Gun Violence. 

This is a unique opportunity to engage with two prominent figures in the conversation about America’s gun violence epidemic. Explore the depths of Guttenberg’s powerful and eye-opening narrative, as Weingarten leads a conversation that promises to challenge and expand your understanding of this critical issue.  

Be part of the dialogue that seeks to unravel the complexities and confront the myths surrounding gun violence in America to shape a safer future. Educators can receive one hour of professional development recertification credit for participating in this webinar if they complete all the poll questions, survey, and actively watch the webinar. 

— Gun Safety

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo speaks to fellow marchers outside of Sen. Ted Cruz’s office in June 2022. Members and allies gathered to urge action on gun violence after the school shooting in Uvalde. No action has been taken by Cruz or other Texas politicians since that time. 

In the News: Gun Violence in Our Schools & Communities 

White House Takes Steps to Ensure Safe Firearm Storage in the Home

On Jan. 25, the White House announced new measures to ensure gun safety in American homes, specifically directing the Department of Education to take necessary steps to safeguard the health and well-being of students across the nation.

Under the direction of the Department of Education, school principals nationwide will receive a letter detailing proper firearm storage safety guidelines and encouraging them to give information to parents about storage. Additionally, the Department of Education is issuing a new template to principals for communication with parents regarding recommendations for safe storage.

Tell Congress to Fund Community Violence Intervention Programs

Death by firearm remains the leading cause of death among the young Americans, leaving lasting scars on survivors, witnesses, and entire communities. That’s why AFT is asking members to advocate for the continuation of vital community violence intervention programs.

Last year’s federal spending bill allocated funding for these life-saving programs, but this support is now at risk as some Republicans in Congress seek to cut spending in the coming weeks.

Help keep these lifesaving programs going by contacting your representatives and senators. 

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So if you really want to say “I love you” through your actions, it’s time to purchase life insurance, or review your current coverage. Horace Mann is a long-time corporate supporter. Contact your local Horace Mann representative today for an appointment and a free life insurance needs analysis. 

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Horace Mann Service Corporation and certain of its affiliates (Horace Mann) enter into agreements with educational associations where Horace Mann pays the association to provide services aimed at familiarizing association members with the Horace Mann brand, products or services. For more information, email your inquiry to association.relations@horacemann.com. 

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Analysis: Texas schools facing lowest inflation-adjusted state, local funding since 2020. An American-Statesman analysis of Texas education financial data revealed that state and local school funding has not kept up with higher costs and increasing demands for the state’s public schools. State and local education funding, adjusted for inflation, reached a peak during the 2019-20 school year and has since declined, though actual state and local allocations per student have steadily increased since 2014. (Austin American-Statesman, Feb.5)  

 📖 Canutillo ISD faces layoffs, school closures amid $6 million deficit. The Canutillo Independent School District is making budget cuts, including layoffs, to address a nearly $6 million deficit caused in part because of the board’s decision to approve a budget that relied on hopes of an increase in state funding that never came. The layoffs, announced in mid-January, include eliminating 13 positions, five of which were vacant. (El Paso Matters, Jan. 31)  

 📖 In Conroe ISD the Books Are Quietly Disappearing Off the Shelves. In November 2023, Conroe ISD trustees decided they needed to get tougher about books on their shelves. They voted to approve revisions to the district’s book review process, one of which would allow only one trustee to appeal a decision made by a reconsideration committee. But there have been few formal book challenges brought forth for board review. Instead, books are being removed to meet the preferences of individual board members, parents, or other individuals through “internal review” requests. (Houston Press, Feb. 6)