Jan. 6, 2023: Education Bills, a COLA, & Student Debt Relief

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

Friday, Jan. 6, 2023

2023 is centered amid a fireworks explosion

Welcome to 2023, and the 88th Texas Legislature

Happy new year! For those on their way back to classrooms, buses, and school campuses, we wish you a soft landing and a happy return.

In Austin, Texas AFT is gearing up for another return — of the Texas Legislature. Next week, lawmakers will be sworn in at the Capitol for the 88th Texas Legislature. While the session doesn’t start until Tuesday, we have seen a flurry of activity already with nearly 1,500 bills filed. Many of these bills affect public education, and we’re thrilled to see several that align with our union’s Respect Agenda.

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • Our preview of the legislative session, including 2023’s first batch of good bills
  • The fight to win a COLA for Texas retired educators
  • A recent win for Texas AFT and public education in the Texas Supreme Court
  • Details on the American Teacher Act, which would make a national minimum salary for teachers
  • Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined the legal fray against the Biden Administration’s student debt relief plan

— Texas Legislature

88th Texas Legislature: Public Education Preview

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Next Tuesday, the Texas Legislature will gavel in for its 88th legislative session. Over the next five months, both the Senate and the House of Representatives will write bills, hear testimony, and pass laws that will affect every Texan but especially school employees, retired educators, students, parents, and anyone directly involved with our public schools.

Texas AFT has a full slate of events to kick off the new legislative session next week, including work at the Capitol to advocate for our Respect Agenda and virtual meetings for AFT members to plug into the session. Read more online or sign up for our Jan. 11 advocacy training and our Jan. 12 legislative briefing.

Good Bills of the Week

Though legislators aren’t sworn in officially until Tuesday, members of both houses are already hard at work drafting bills. As of today, Texas representatives have filed over 1,200 bills, and senators have filed over 300 bills. Hundreds of these bills relate to public education, and we expect hundreds more by the time bill filing ends March 10.

  • HB 770 by Alma Allen (D-Houston) would provide an across-the-board step increase plus $400 to all certified educators.
  • HB 1115 by Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) and HB 1137 by Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) would tie TRS annuities to inflation.
  • HB 301 by Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) would provide a 6% TRS cost-of-living adjustment capped at $100 per month for all TRS members who retired before August 2021.
  • SB 193 by Borris Miles (D-Houston) would require schools to alert parents if a school has no on-campus nurse.
  • HB 991 by Terry Meza (D-Dallas) would establish a $15 minimum wage for school bus drivers.
  • HB 977 by Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would create a commission to improve current assessment and accountability systems.
  • HB 342 by John Bucy (D-Round Rock) would provide full-day Pre-K to 3- and 4-year-olds.

You can read more of our thoughts on the upcoming session on our website.

Text is an invite to the Texas A-F-T all-member legislative briefing on Thursday, January 12, from six to seven thirty p-m.

The 88th Texas Legislature convenes next week, and we have work to do to pass real change for Texas public schools & school employees.

Texas AFT has rolled out our union’s Respect Agenda, and we want to make sure our members statewide know what’s at stake in Austin. All Texas AFT members are invited to a 90-minute webinar Thursday, Jan. 12, about what to expect in the session and how you can get involved.

— Retirement Security

Retirees Sound the Alarm on TRS COLA in Local News

The upcoming 88th Texas legislative session is poised to be a consequential one for retired teachers. No teacher who retired in the past 19 years has ever received a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their TRS annuity. But after all these years, there is finally hope on the horizon for a significant COLA, as many prominent state leaders have already signaled their support.

Ahead of the session, retiree activists across the state are drawing attention to the issue by publishing letters to the editor in their local papers.

Late last year, Texas AFT Retiree Plus Board Member Beverly Avila and Texas AFT Retiree Plus President Rita Runnels co-authored a letter to the editor published in the McAllen Monitor.

Just last week, Texas Alliance of Retired Americans (TARA) President Gene Lantz published a letter in the Dallas Morning News calling for a more secure retirement for retired teachers in Texas.

How You Can Help

Texas AFT retiree members are working hard to seize this important opportunity to pass a COLA. We encourage our members to publish letters calling for a TRS COLA in their own local news publications. Need help getting started? Sign up through our online action, and we will send you our guide to writing strong letters to the editor.

— Privatization

Texas Supreme Court Sides with Texas AFT on Commissioner Power, Charter Partnerships

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1882, a bill designed to encourage charter school growth by allowing public school campuses labeled as “low-performing” to hand over operations to a charter operator; in exchange, the school would receive the per-pupil funding advantage that charters have over real public schools — sometimes as high as $1,000 per pupil. 

After the Commissioner of Education created rules to implement the law, Texas AFT challenged several as exceeding the commissioner’s authority and sought a declaration that those rules were invalid and void. In December, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with us, in a timely decision given the recent jaw-dropping scheme in Wimberley ISD that used SB 1882 as a loophole to funnel tax dollars to private schools.

— U.S. Congress

The American Teacher Act Would Set a $60,000 National Minimum Salary

The American Teacher Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December, aims to address the nationwide teacher and school staffing shortage by proposing a national minimum salary of $60,000 for teachers. The bill was introduced by Reps. Federica Wilson (D-Fla.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), both former educators, and it has attracted endorsements from notable education advocates, including the American Federation of Teachers.

Because the bill was introduced in late 2022, in the 117th U.S. Congress, it would need to be reintroduced this year in the 118th U.S. Congress. If passed, an appropriations bill would determine how to fund the new salaries. Currently, the bill would be funded by federal grants.

A rally sign that reads

Proof that teacher pay is a longstanding issue: A sign from Texas AFT’s Speak Out! Stand Together! Rally in Houston in 2018.

The bill could take effect as soon as the 2024-2025 academic year, with the new minimum salary being adjusted for inflation each subsequent year, beginning with the 2025-2026 school year.

It’s worth noting that most Americans believe that teachers should have higher salaries, and several states have either proposed or passed legislation to increase teacher salaries to $60,000. Here in Texas, thanks to local wage campaigns from Alliance/AFT and the Houston Federation of Teachers, all starting teachers have salaries at or above $60,000 in Dallas and Houston ISDs.

Recommended Reading

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

? Texas greenlighted a felon to train school board members. Now education officials are examining their rules. The Texas Education Agency is considering changing the way it vets vendors who train new school board members after learning an approved provider — who has pitched his training as a conservative alternative to “woke” programs — is a felon. (The Texas Tribune, Dec. 20)

? Texas retired teachers miss their chance for relief from Social Security penalty. As 2022 ended, Congress didn’t act to reform a Social Security penalty that costs 200,000 Texas retirees, mostly teachers, up to $500 or more a month, spoiling a rare chance for a bipartisan solution to help them. (San Antonio Express-News, Jan. 5)

? Dems And Reps Agree On One Thing: Killing The STAAR Test. Perhaps the one issue generating the most bipartisan support in Texas politics might be a desire to see the state standardized testing radically reformed or entirely eliminated. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Test for years. (Reform Austin, Jan. 4)