January 7, 2022: 13th check for retirees on its way; More federal funds flowing to schools; Omicron wave challenges schools; Mandates still mired in lawsuits
Publish Date: January 7, 2022 10:45 am Author: Texas AFT
TRS members set to receive
13th check January 14
This week the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) announced that retired teachers will be receiving their one-time supplemental benefit check (commonly referred to as a “13th check”) next Friday, January 14.
Those using direct deposit to receive TRS pension checks will likely receive the deposit that same day, but there might be a slight delay in processing the deposit due to Martin Luther King Jr. bank holiday weekend. Members who receive paper checks should expect a regular delay due to postage. The checks should be in an amount either equal to their regular annuity payment or $2,400, whichever is less. Members who retired before the end of 2020 or beneficiaries of a member who died before the end of 2020 are eligible.
The 13th check comes as a result of legislation passed this September. The Texas AFT legislative team lobbied for and supported the passage of this bill but have continued to push legislators to pass a much needed and much overdue cost of living adjustment to permanently increase the regular monthly payments.
Gov. Abbott releases additional federal funding for education
Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced the release of an additional $123.3 million in education funding appropriated to Texas by Congress as part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.
With this latest release of federal funds, the state has directed over $362 million to higher education and $67.5 million to K-12 public education since the pandemic began.
Of the latest $123.3 million release of funds, $20 million will be sent to the Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program, which provides $1,500 online grants to eligible parents of students in special education. $30.3 million, the largest single portion of this release, will be sent to Student Success Initiatives (SSIs) designed to improve enrollment, retention, and credential completion.
The release also includes $10 million for Charter School Incubating and Replicating grants designed to increase the number of charter schools across the state. In the press release announcing the release of funds, Abbott stated, “The State of Texas remains committed to students and their success in our education systems—that includes ensuring parents have an option to send their kids to a high-quality charter school…”
According to the Governor’s press release, this round of funding also includes:
$25 million to support Texas nurses through loan repayment, financial aid for nursing students, and to accelerate innovation in nursing education.
$17.5 million to expand workforce-aligned, short-term credentials for high-need areas, including digital skills, data analytics, and programs for front-line health care workers.
$12.5 million to continue strategic investments in student financial aid programs, including transfer grants and the Texas Leadership Scholarship Program.
$5 million to support the agency’s ongoing work to modernize the state’s educational and workforce data infrastructure and enhance cybersecurity.
$3 million for Commercial Driver License (CDL) training and repayment, to improve transportation and the supply chain.”
Federal judge ruling stops Texas Head Start programs from requiring masks, vaccinations
Last Friday, a U.S. district judge granted a temporary injunction to ban mask and vaccination requirements in Texas Head Start centers. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lubbock ISD sued the federal government for requiring vaccinations for Head Start staff and mask use for staff and most students.
Head Start—administered by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, but run by school districts and other providers throughout the state—provides childcare, early learning, and health-related services for children of low-income families. The requirements were part of widespread orders by the Biden Administration for federal employees and federally-funded programs.
Lubbock ISD officials stated they were concerned about the federal requirements deterring enrollment and attendance. However, many Head Start program leaders have stated the requirements will help protect program shut-downs from infected staff and students. But Paxton’s pursuit was grounded in his continuing battles against masks and vaccination requirements in all school environments. Gov. Greg Abbott has issued orders banning employer vaccination and mask mandates.
Lawsuits over the ban on mask mandates are in limbo with a November Federal Appeals Court ruling in Abbott’s favor that the order can proceed—followed by a State Appeal Court ruling yesterday that said Harris County could institute mask regulations and not follow the governor’s order. Many school districts have defied Abbott’s orders by requiring masks, which resulted in at least 15 lawsuits by Paxton against districts.
Paxton also has sued the federal government for its vaccine requirements for federally-funded healthcare workers and members of the Texas National Guard.
Local teachers union president Candis Houston launches campaign for state House seat
Texas AFT is proud to endorse Candis Houston for Texas House of Representatives District 142. Houston is the president of Aldine AFT and a single mom working two jobs to put her daughters through college.
An educator for 13 years in Aldine ISD, her professional experience includes time as an accountant, business instructor, and an adjunct professor.
Houston has deep ties to her community and her church. If you want to learn more visit her website at www.candishouston.com and keep an eye on our union events listing for more opportunities to get involved in her campaign.
Pol. Adv. Paid for by Texas AFT COPE
Omicron’s impacts on the 2022
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has complicated the return to the classroom after winter break. The United States is averaging more than 300,000 new cases a day for the first time in the pandemic as of January 5, 2021.
Hospitalizations are growing at a much slower rate than cases. The increasing spread of the virus is causing some districts to shift back to remote learning and is impacting teacher and staffing shortages.
San Antonio ISD is leaning into their substitute teacher workforce as many full-time teachers are falling ill or don’t feel safe returning to in-person instruction. Houston ISD is providing drive-thru testing for students, parents, and staff to make sure that back-to-school plans remain in place. In Austin, district officials are pressing forward with in-person learning for the spring semester but recommend that students, parents, and teachers double mask while on campus. Transitioning to remote learning is not off the table for some districts. Dallas-area Richardson ISD transitioned to remote learning during the last few days of the Fall 2021 school year after more than two dozen positive cases developed in a single day, followed by an increase in student and staffing absences that were COVID-19 related.
Health experts remain divided in recommendations and policy on how to handle back-to-school plans for local districts and the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services is urging districts across the country to ensure that their institutions are safe, ready, and open for in-person instruction. The advice from the federal government consists of continuing with the vaccine campaign, increasing testing options for everyone, sanitizing commonly touched surfaces, and strict mask-wearing for all — including the vaccinated.
While the response varies around the country, parents are nervous about the prospect of sending their child to a place where they could contract the virus. More studies are underway as to why COVID-19 has mutated to become more infectious, and there’s increasing evidence to suggest that it’s less severe of a disease compared to the once-dominant Delta variant. CDC data shows that in the week ending on December 28, there was about an average of 378 children hospitalized per day with COVID-19. However, health experts agree: vaccination against COVID-19 protects everyone—including children—from severe illness and greatly diminishes the risk of hospitalizations. While breakthrough cases among the vaccinated have been reported, the vast majority of severe illnesses and deaths caused by COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.