July 14, 2023: ‘Starve, Shame, & Shutter’

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

Friday, July 14, 2023

‘Starve, shame, & shutter’

With a $33 billion surplus available, we had high hopes. High hopes that the Texas Legislature would step up and deliver for students, educators, and school employees ahead of the upcoming school year. 

Yet, here we are, one regular session and two special sessions later with no basic allotment increase and no guaranteed pay raises for teachers and school staff. 

Public school districts across this state are setting their budgets for this year, squeezing every last dime to try to give their employees a small raise — with no support from the state. 

To do so, they are eliminating lunchroom monitors, reducing counselors, and laying off other support staff positions that make our schools run smoothly for students. They are closing cafeterias, arts programs, and CTE programs. They are passing deficit budgets and facing financial ruin.

At the same time, the state keeps moving the goalposts, weaponizing a ratings system to punish its underfunded, under-resourced public education system. It’s not hard to see, as the governor has threatened a third special session to revive his school voucher demands, what the game is. 

“This is a continuation of the starve, shame, and shutter that has been the majority narrative of this Legislature for a long time when it comes to public schools,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo in an interview this week. “This is a problem. And there are far too many political games being played with people’s lives.” 

To the legislators in Austin who pushed through a property tax deal stripped of any relief for educators this week, that’s what you should remember: you are playing games with people’s livelihoods and — given your minuscule investment in school safety — their lives, too.

Words cannot express our frustration and disappointment. Thank you to the elected officials and staff who worked tirelessly for a different outcome, and to those who took a stand and fought for their community schools in yesterday’s debate.

We’ll see you for the third special session, whenever it is. Because our kids — and ourselves — deserve better.

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • We unpack the onslaught of attacks on higher education in this legislative session, and where we go from here.
  • Get all the information you ever wanted to know about the property tax deal reached by the House and the Senate — and how it left public education by the wayside.
  • A COLA for retired educators will be on the ballot this November, and we are gearing up to turn out the vote.
  • Worried about the student debt news? AFT is here to help members.

— Legislature

Unpacking the Legislature: Higher Education

Texas AAUP members and allies protest bills attacking higher education and academic freedom in May.

Texas AAUP members and allies protest bills attacking higher education and academic freedom in May.

While public institutions of higher education in Texas have weathered attacks from the state Legislature before, never have those attacks been so directly targeted by lawmakers as in this session. The struggles that higher education institutions face are unique, but those attacks can and should be viewed in the context of the broader assault on public education in Texas. 

As educators, we know that learning should challenge us. Without being pushed out of their comfort zones, students won’t have the opportunity to expand their understanding of important issues and grow. The goal of an educator is not indoctrination; in fact, that is the opposite of our goals. Yet accusations of indoctrination are continuously hurled at educators in Texas by political extremists.

It is important that academic freedom is preserved at all levels of education. Along with our affiliates with Texas AAUP and other allied groups, Texas AFT fought back against the multi-front assault on higher education this session. Read our full recap online.

— Legislature

Legislative Update: In a Week of Aggressive Deal-Making, Public Education Still Left in the Dust

Property Tax Deal Reached, Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

The second special session of the 88th Texas Legislature ended this week when the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate finally passed the property tax relief agreement reached by Republican leadership and announced earlier this week. The bills will be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed, while the joint resolution will be on Texas voters’ November ballot in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.

The most significant development in the negotiations between the House and Senate was the removal of the “supplemental payments” for teachers that public education champion Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) added to the Senate property tax relief plan with unanimous bipartisan support.

Recap: House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity & Enrichment

The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, established to explore a range of issues related to public education and produce a report including recommendations, met Tuesday and Wednesday to hear panels with only invited testimony.

While we weren’t invited to testify, Texas AFT will work to ensure that the report produced by the select committee represents a rigorous analysis of the biggest issues facing our public schools and accurately represents the diverse perspectives and experiences of educators and school employees. 

You can assist in this effort by submitting public comments to the committee through the House’s online portal by July 17. The committee’s report is due Aug. 11.

— Event

Texas AFT Retirees Gear Up to Win A COLA at the Ballot Box

This week, at the TRS Board of Trustees’ quarterly meeting, trustees received an update on legislation passed during the 88th regular session, including but not limited to SB 10, which will provide certain TRS retirees with supplemental checks, as well as a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their standard monthly annuities.

The board moved to approve distribution of the supplemental checks to retirees this September. According to SB 10, TRS retirees between 70 and 74 years old by Aug. 31, 2023, will receive a $2,400 check. Those 75 years or older by Aug. 31, 2023, will receive a $7,500 check.

The board, however, was not able to approve the distribution of the COLA. The COLA in SB 10 was structured in such a way that it requires voter approval via constitutional amendment election in November.

Next Wednesday, July 19, Texas AFT Retiree Plus members will gather for a virtual event at 10 a.m. CT to kick off our campaign to turn out the vote for that COLA.

A-F-T logo

AFT Member Benefits: Student Debt Relief

As dispiriting as the recent Supreme Court news is, our union remains committed to the fight for affordable higher education and relief for student borrowers. AFT sued the federal government to keep its promise with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and now, we’re working to make sure every member gets what they’re owed. 

Summer Benefit

Using Summer, a free member benefit provided by AFT, Texas AFT members have had at least $387,224 in student loan debt forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

This online resource, started by student loan borrowers who wanted to help others avoid bad information and bad actors in the student loan market, can help you to:

  • Enroll in income-driven repayment plans and manage annual income recertifications for these plans
  • Complete the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Employment Certification Form and manage the PSLF certification and application process
  • Find other options for loan forgiveness programs, including state- and occupation-based loan forgiveness, and get assistance in applying for them
  • Talk through options with Summer’s borrower success team so they can understand how to best maximize their loan repayment and forgiveness options

Enroll in Summer — for free — today.

Student Debt Clinics

AFT student debt clinics are 90-minute programs that:

  • Situate the experience of borrowers in the midst of a national student debt crisis
  • Empower you to manage your student debt by giving you information on free federal programs that may lower your monthly payments and lead to your loans being forgiven
  • Engage you in union activism to address the student debt crisis and other important issues in your workplace and community

Many local unions run student debt clinics for members throughout the year, and AFT national has several upcoming webinars too.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 New Texas charter schools regularly overpromise on student enrollment, data shows. Organizations that opened new charter schools in Texas over the last five years frequently overestimated the number of students they would enroll in their early years when making their pitch for state approval, according to a review of statewide data. (Houston Chronicle, July 13)   


📖 Texas A&M recruited a UT professor to revive its journalism program, then backtracked after “DEI hysteria.” The university celebrated its decision to hire Kathleen McElroy to revive its journalism program. She says she’s staying at UT after she felt judged because of her race and gender. (Texas Tribune, July 12)   

📖 The Dystopian Future of U.S. Public Education Is On Display in Houston. The takeover of the Houston Independent School District by GOP officials is part of a broader attack on public education — but unions and community members are fighting back. (In These Times, July 12)