Jan. 19, 2024: The Budget Surplus Remains

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

Friday, Jan. 19, 2024

Back to Basics

Texas has the ninth-largest economy in the world and a $32.7 billion budget surplus, but our schools are starved for resources. 

How did this happen? What can we do to fix it? Can it be fixed? 

Educating Texas: The Levers of Power 

Tuesday, Jan. 23 

6 p.m. CT 

Head back to school with Texas AFT for a brush-up on your civics education. In this bimonthly Zoom series, we’ll walk through who holds the power in this state, what they’re doing with it, and what we need to build thriving public schools — and a thriving Lone Star State democracy. 

The first session is Tuesday, Jan. 23, and we’ll be joined by State Board of Education member Aicha Davis. Sign up for this and all other sessions on our Mobilize page. 

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • A victory for the freedom to read! Book-ban bill HB 900 faces another defeat in the courts.  
  • Gov. Abbott reported a $6 million donation from the “richest man in Pennsylvania,” a hard-core voucher supporter.  
  • El Paso AFT members are fighting back against wage theft in their district.  
  • Reminder: The deadline to register to vote in Texas’ primary election is coming up quickly on Feb. 5.  

— Privatization

Unmasking Vouchers: Abbott’s Out-of-State Fundraising Haul 

The sources of a politician’s campaign donations say a lot about their priorities and the interests to which they are beholden. As we have covered previously, Texas is awash in outside money seeking to influence our politics, and Gov. Greg Abbott is a primary beneficiary.

Abbott is known as one of the most prolific fundraisers in Texas politics, and his recent campaign finance reports show that his so-far fruitless campaign for private school vouchers is being powered by wealthy donors and out-of-state billionaires.

Over the past six months, Abbott’s campaign saw an influx of $19 million in donations, according to his latest filing with the Texas Ethics Commission this month. Abbott’s fundraising haul included a $6 million donation from a pro-voucher Pennsylvania billionaire, a donation that his campaign has called “the largest in Texas history.”

— Elections

Feb. 5 Voter Registration Deadline Quickly Approaching 

The clock is ticking, Texas! Ensure your voice is heard by registering to vote or verifying your voter registration status before the crucial deadline on Feb. 5. The upcoming March 5 primary elections are a pivotal moment for public education, with hotly contested races across the state, and your participation is key. 

Public education in Texas is under attack, and certain victories or losses could play a major role during the next legislative session in Austin, as well as during the next session of Congress in Washington D.C. 


Voter Registration Deadline: Feb. 5 

Last Day to Apply to Vote by Mail: Feb. 23 

Early Voting: Feb. 20 – March 1 

Election Day: March 5 

— Privatization

Roundup: Voucher Developments Across the United States 

Thanks to Texas AFT member activism, taxpayer-funded private school vouchers did not pass in Texas, despite a push by Gov. Greg Abbott and monied special interest groups across five separate legislative sessions.  


While Texas avoided the voucher scam last year, Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, and Indiana are in various stages of their own voucher fights. All these states show us what we know: school vouchers do not work. 


As outlined by the Department of Education, school voucher programs primarily benefit families already enrolled in private schools, signaling a departure from its initial goal of aiding low-income families. Read the full story on our website to see some recent headlines that prove it.  

— Event

Image reads: C-O-L-A celebration with special guest Zeph Capo.

Texas AFT COLA Celebration! 

It’s official. Voters overwhelmingly approved a cost-of-living adjustment for retired Texas educators. This win could have never happened without the relentless hard work of Texas AFT retirees. 

To keep up the momentum from this win and to grow our movement, we will also be taking collective action to grow our membership. 

— Censorship

Texas Book-Banning Bill Partially Blocked by Appeals Court in Unanimous Ruling 

This Wednesday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a lower court to temporarily block the implementation of part of House Bill 900 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), a bill intended to ban certain materials from the shelves of public school libraries. 


This decision by the 5th Circuit, considered by many as the most conservative of the 11 appellate court districts, will temporarily block the full implementation of HB 900 before a judge evaluates the constitutionality of the law at a formal hearing. While this ruling is only a temporary block, the court explicitly stated within the ruling that the law likely will be found unconstitutional based on “controlling precedent.” 

— Event

AFT Book Club: A Conversation with Amanda Gorman 

Sunday, Jan. 28 

5 p.m. CT 

AFT, Share My Lesson, and the Albert Shanker Institute are hosting a groundbreaking new book club series this year. Tune in each month for an evening of inspiration, intellect, and innovation! Plus, when you’re one of the first to sign up each month, watch for discounts and incentives to get the upcoming author’s books.  

In January, inaugural poet and activist Amanda Gorman will join AFT President Randi Weingarten for the first session of the AFT Book Club Series.

— Locals

El Paso AFT Files Grievance Against District, Alleging Retaliatory Wage Theft 

Results from a recent survey by El Paso AFT show that 71% of employees who responded said El Paso ISD has changed for the worse in the past two years.

Last week, El Paso AFT President Ross Moore filed a collective grievance with El Paso ISD against Deputy Superintendent Vince Sheffield and his staff, alleging that they did not follow the district’s compensation guidelines, resulting in thousands of dollars in withheld wages for certain district employees. 


Last summer, thanks to El Paso AFT’s successful wage campaign, all staff won a pay increase and speech language pathologists (SLPs) moved up the pay schedule. In the grievance, Moore states that, according to district compensation guidelines, this pay-scale transition coupled with the across-the-board raise should have yielded a 10% raise for SLPs, but Sheffield’s staff raised SLP pay by just 2% of the new salary schedule. 


Despite the district promising to rectify the error, SLPs still have not received their accurate raise. Moore alleges that the district’s unwillingness to provide the promised raise is a form of retaliation against these employees for speaking out about their stagnant salaries and growing workload. 

— Event

Texas AFT Bridges Institute Regional Leadership Conferences 

Image reads: Texas A-F-T bridges institute regional leadership conference.

Register today to attend our union’s most exciting biennial conference, providing both worksite leader and professional development workshops.  

  • Houston: Saturday, Feb. 10 
  • Rio Grande Valley: Saturday, Feb. 24 

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Vouchers are not conservative. State Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) writes, Texas has had six different constitutions, with the current Texas Constitution being amended 530 times since 1876. Nevertheless, throughout decades of revision, secession, and reconstruction, our state has never wavered from its promise to provide education to every Texan. Our founders believed that this promise was essential to securing the posterity of our state from generation to generation; however, almost a century and a half later, this value is under attack. (The Community News, Jan. 16)  

 📖 Partisans are politicizing our schools. Behind-the-scenes connections between paid Texas Republican Party operatives and school board trustees have become increasingly common amid a coordinated push by political action committees (PACs) and their preferred consulting firms to secure ultraconservative majorities on school boards across Texas, a recent investigation by the Texas Observer revealed. It’s a part of a national trend that’s seen historically low-budget, nonpartisan school board elections turned into high-dollar, professionalized political battlegrounds. (Texas Observer, Jan. 16)  

 📖 South Carolina taxpayers set to pay for Moms for Liberty-run charter school. Moms for Liberty, which has been engaged in efforts opposing LGBTQ+ rights and advocating for removing certain library books, is now stepping into educational governance. Taxpayers in South Carolina will soon be paying for a school run by extremists. Activists from the Moms for Liberty chapter in Charleston are launching a taxpayer-funded public charter school named the Ashley River Classical Academy with a controversial curriculum set to serve as its foundation. (Advocate, Jan. 17)