Jan. 20, 2023: Fact-Checking Gov. Abbott; The State Takeover of HISD; The Voucher Fight Begins

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

Friday, Jan. 20, 2023

This week’s Hotline starts with a reminder: 

  1. Words matter. 
  2. What happens in the Legislature has consequences

Over the past month, a variety of rumors about Texas education have sprung up on social media and taken root. In December, tweets began circulating that claimed Dallas ISD teachers could no longer use the word “slavery” in class. We’re happy to report that is false


Just like we’re happy to refute that Texas schools aren’t banned from reading the critical works of Martin Luther King Jr. (Despite multiple troubling classroom censorship bills passed in 2021, the TEKS are still the law of the land on curriculum, and King is in the TEKS several times.)


“This is exactly what happens when politics is injected into the curriculum,” Zeph Capo, president of the Texas AFT, told the Associated Press in December. “Now we are left with this ambiguity that is a breeding ground for fear, rumor and bad local policy.”

May this be a reminder to legislators in Austin; this is why educators need to be at the decision-making table. 


In today’s Hotline: 

  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announces “school choice” is on the menu, while Gov. Greg Abbott leaves out a few facts about his school funding record. 
  • The Texas Supreme Court paves the way for TEA to potentially take over Houston ISD’s democratically elected school board.
  • Notable bills already filed in the 88th Legislature include several relating to school nurses. 
  • Another member of our union family needs nominations for the TRS board.

— Texas Legislature

The ‘School Choice’ Fight Has Begun at the Legislature

Text reads: 76 percent of voters are concerned that charter schools are taking money away from public schools.

This past Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott delivered their inaugural addresses to the 88th Legislature in Austin. 


Both — for all their previous “linguistic gymnastics” — made one thing clear: a private school voucher push is coming.


“The governor and I are all in on school choice,” Patrick said. “To the naysayers that say school choice hurts rural Texas, the governor and I will have a plan to protect those schools financially and to make sure those parents have choice also where they are in a failing school.”


“Failing schools” has become one of Patrick’s go-to phrases. As recently as November, he characterized major urban school districts like Dallas ISD as “dropout factories.” (Never mind that a large part of Dallas ISD’s slightly above average dropout rate can be tied to funding gaps, exacerbated by the rapid expansion of charter schools — with higher dropout rates — in the area.)


Privatization advocates point to misused standardized testing scores or problematic accountability ratings to paint a school as “failing.” But rather than judge a school and teacher by a child’s performance on a standardized test that has been judged to be two or three grade levels ahead of them, we prefer different metrics: the perspective of educators, students, and parents. 

What Texas Parents Say


Fortunately, we don’t have to wonder what most Texas parents and voters think about their public schools and the threat of privatization. They’ve told us, on more than one occasion. 

In a 2022 poll from the Charles Butt Foundation, for example, 68% of public school parents in Texas gave their children’s schools an A or B grade — up 12 percentage points from before the pandemic. If other options were available, that poll found, 8 in 10 public school parents would keep their kids right where they’re at.

The Truth About School Vouchers

Wednesday, Jan. 25

6 p.m. CT

If vouchers are largely unpopular among the parents and voters who voucher proponents claim to care about, why are they such a hot topic for this Legislature? We’ll discuss that next week in a legislative advocacy training: The Truth About School Vouchers.

— Texas Legislature

Legislative Lowdown: News From the Capitol

Text reads: News from the 88th legislative session.

The second week of the 88th Texas legislative session kicked off with the inaugurations of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Both gave speeches that had serious implications for Texas public education.


Apart from both Abbott and Patrick signaling support for private school vouchers, which would take money out of public education, both also signaled support for greater censorship in publicly funded schools. Abbott referred to public schools as “indoctrination” institutions, and Patrick doubled down on his attacks targeting tenure for professors working in higher education. 

Good Bills of the Week

Despite Abbott and Patrick’s recent attacks against public education, several good bills have been filed by legislators in both parties. These bills include:

  • SB 193, HB 1061, and HB 1281, by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston), Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission), and Rep. Jolanda Jones (D-Houston), respectively, would require public schools, including charter schools, to alert parents if schools are not adequately staffed with full-time nurses.
  • HB 1139 by Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) would require a school district or charter school to employ at least one full-time registered nurse at each campus and maintain an average ratio of not less than one full-time registered nurse for every 750 students enrolled.
  • HB 1376 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require that public schools be funded based on enrollment, instead of attendance. This is an important change because 300,000 students are undercounted when attendance-based funding is used. Enrollment-based funding is much more accurate and would put more money into our public education system. 
  • HB 429 by Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy) would provide an annual, automatic cost-of-living adjustment for TRS annuitants that is linked to inflation.

Text reads: Texas A-F-T's 2023 Legislative guide.

Claim Your Copy: Texas AFT 2023 Legislative Guide

The 88th Texas Legislature convened Jan. 10 in Austin. Our union’s 12-page legislative guide gives you all the details on what to expect, what we’re fighting for, and how you can get involved.  

Any active Texas AFT member — including members of Retiree Plus — can claim a free copy of the guide! Just enter your information into our online form, and we’ll mail you a copy.

— Accountability

Supreme Court Clears Way for State Takeover of Houston ISD

Last week, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the Texas Education Agency and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath could potentially take control of the democratically elected Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees. HISD has been targeted for state takeover since 2019 due to alleged misconduct by trustees and poor accountability scores at Phillis Wheatley High School.


The district sued in 2020 and a Travis County district judge halted Commissioner Morath’s plan by granting an injunction that was also upheld by an appeals court. In 2021, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1365, which adjusted the timeline for state takeover of districts labeled as “low-performing.”  


When discussing the legislative intent of SB 1365 on the House floor, bill author Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) specifically stated in an exchange with Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) that SB 1365 would not affect the ongoing Houston case. Watch this important discussion here.  


However, when TEA took the case to the Texas Supreme Court, the agency argued that SB 1365 indeed would allow for the state to continue its takeover, and the court agreed. The Supreme Court ended the injunction, saying it isn’t appropriate under the new law — the one that wasn’t supposed to apply to this case. 


This decision could allow Commissioner Morath to replace a democratically elected school board with new school board members of his choosing. 

Wheatley High School, meanwhile, received a passing grade last year from TEA.

— School Funding

Fact-Check: Gov. Abbott’s School Funding Claims

Claim: In a tweet Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott refuted (rightful) claims from Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson that state leaders’ plans to push vouchers — under “school choice” verbiage — would further defund public schools, already “starving” for money.


In his tweet, Abbott said per-student funding for Texas schools is at an all-time high, bragging that he has “devoted more funding for public ed & teacher pay raises than any governor in TX history.”

Facts: Two things can be true at the same time, primarily because of a little thing the governor speaks about frequently: inflation. 


Texas can both be spending more per student than ever before, and that amount can also be inadequate given that increases in the cost of education have outpaced the growth in public education funding. As Every Texan has pointed out, the basic allotment has been stuck at $6,160 since 2019. If state law had linked it to inflation, schools would have received almost $4 billion in additional state aid by now.


Insted, we find ourselves 39th in the nation for per-student funding. In our research, we’ve found Texas teachers, meanwhile, have endured actual salary losses over the past decade because of inflation. (That’s not to mention the support staff and paraprofessionals making wages near federal poverty levels.) 

Meanwhile, the “school choice” platform that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said he and Abbott are “all in on” would further destabilize the situation. According to Raise Your Hand Texas, for each student who leaves a Texas public school, a campus would lose about $10,000 in state and local funding.


Sign AFT Retiree Craig Adams’ Petition to Join TRS Board of Trustees

Craig Adams, a Texas AFT Retiree Plus member, needs your signature to get on the ballot for the Retiree position on the TRS (Teacher Retirement System of Texas) Board of Trustees. Any retired teacher in the TRS system can sign Craig’s petition. All signatures must be submitted by Jan. 25 to be counted. Any TRS member who is currently retired and receiving benefits may sign Craig’s online nomination petition and is eligible to vote for him when the voting begins in March 2023.

Thanks to your signatures last week, Texas AFT Retiree Plus member Phyllis Ruffin has received the requisite amount of votes to be on the ballot for the At-Large position on the TRS Board. Phyllis’s position is separate from Craig’s. 


On March 15, electronic ballots to vote for both positions will be available online and hard-copy ballots will be mailed to eligible voters. All ballots must be returned by May 5 to count. The gGovernor will choose to nominate one of the top three vote-getters for each position to the TRS board in June.

Recommended Reading

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

? ‘They are starving us’: Houston teachers union condemns school choice blitz. “[Texas lawmakers] are continuing to rob the public schools and send money to private charters and are trying to privatize our schools,” Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said. “They are starving us to death, and then they wonder why we don’t meet certain accountability standards.”  (Houston Chronicle, Jan. 19)

? When showing up at the Texas Capitol made a difference. Readers sometimes ask us if the outcomes in governing are predetermined and whether civic engagement makes a difference. There are plenty of examples of Texans influencing lawmakers’ decisions. (The Texas Tribune, Jan. 19)

? Opinion: Reform Robin Hood. School districts need legislative action to reverse recapture’s rapid growth. However, addressing recapture by itself is akin to treating the symptoms rather than the disease. In this case, the disease is the state’s quiet reduction in state support for public schools. (Dallas Morning News, Jan. 19))