July 25: CDC releases White House reopening package; Budget hole signals need for federal funds; Higher Ed news; Charter-school review starts next week

 

You can find all news, updates and resources addressing COVID-19 here on our website.


As the CDC politicizes school reopenings, local health officials use their authority to delay start dates

Texas AFT is quite clear on what it will take to reopen schools safely, with one metric of many being a 14-day decline in local COVID-19 cases. Today the CDC released a new statement to add to its reopening guidelines, and it amounts to a public relations pitch to get as many kids back into the classrooms as soon as possible. The CDC is basing it’s push on an agenda from the White House and dubious assertions on how kids are at minimum risk, both for themselves and their teachers and families.

In a news release this morning, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo unwrapped what’s really going on:

“Amazing, isn’t it, how in two-weeks time the CDC can go from an internal document noting the high risk of school reopenings to now saying it’s perfectly safe to push millions of kids back into classrooms.

“These guidelines have gone to the White House gift wrapper and are now an insulting, politically-packaged campaign piece. We’ll take one guideline to heart, because it’s what we’ve done all along with no national leadership: “working closely with local health officials to make decisions on whether to maintain school operations.”

“Meanwhile, Harris County–home to Houston ISD and several other large districts–today joined four other major urban counties (Travis, Tarrant, Dallas, and El Paso) in mandating no on-site instruction until at least September 8. As the news changes daily, we strongly suggest you follow us on Facebook to learn how you can stand up and ensure your local district if following a safe path.

In addition to reversing the Texas COVID-19 spike, we know it’s also going to take a significant investment in federal funds–billions of dollars to Texas schools that would arrive with passage of the HEROES Act–to safely reopen. We’re making a final push at squabbling Senators to get this done and also pass the Childcare is Essential Act. Send your online letter now to our U.S. senators urging passage.

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Schedule for TEA charter-school applicant interviews: July 27 – 29, 2020

Next week, TEA will interview nine charter school applicants. TEA staff and participating members of the State Board of Education may ask questions, but there is no opportunity for questions or comments from the public. These interviews will be conducted via Zoom and live-streamed for the public to view at this link: http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea

The charter applications can be viewed here.

 

DATE – 2020 CHARTER APPLICANT GRADE AREA
Monday, July 27
9 – 11 Brillante Academy PK4 – 5 McAllen area
12 – 2 Rocketship Public Schools PK4 – 5 Fort Worth area
2:30 – 4:30 Heritage Charter School EE3 – 8 Houston area
Tuesday, July 28      
9 – 11 Prelude Preparatory Charter School PK4 – 8 San Antonio area
12 – 2 Doral Academy of Texas PK4 – 8 Buda Area
2:30 – 4:30 CLEAR Public Charter School K – 8 San Marcos area
Wednesday, July 29      
9 – 11 Royal Public School K – 12 San Antonio area
12 – 2 Curie Academy 9 – 12 Austin area
2:30 – 4:30 Learn4Life Austin 9 – 12 Austin area
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State budget hole from pandemic signals the need for federal investment in our schools

Comptroller Glenn Hegar came out with new budget estimates Monday that see the state facing down a $4.6 billion shortfall for the next budget cycle. Last October the picture was much rosier, and Texas was projected to have a $2.89 billion surplus, but the COVID-19 pandemic and recent volatility in oil markets have taken their toll.

The comptroller also announced new estimates for the Economic Stabilization Fund, otherwise known as the Rainy Day Fund–an $8.8 billion balance for 2021 that can be tapped to cover funding for essential healthcare and education programs such as Pre-K and Medicaid.

To avoid the mistakes made in 2011, lawmakers will need to use the Rainy Day fund to support school districts as they try to ensure every student has access to educational opportunities during this health crisis. Use of that fund also would help ensure Texas doesn’t go back on the commitments the state made in the last legislative session when it passed HB3, the school finance bill that pumped new money into public education.

Hegar warned in his update that the revised estimates come with an unprecedented amount of uncertainty. “We have had to make assumptions about the economic impact of COVID-19, the duration and effects of which remain largely unknown,” cautioned Hager. He also made it clear that these estimates do not include any additional support from the federal government since no new stimulus package has yet been passed by Congress. Additional aid would greatly improve the economic outlook for Texas next year.

As it stands, most state agencies are in the process of reducing their budgets by at least 5%, a number that could go up if the health crisis persists. Federal lawmakers must put their constituents ahead of politics and work together to pass the HEROES Act as soon as possible.

With or without additional federal aid, Gov. Abbott and the Legislature will have to prioritize funding to ensure Texas families continue to receive the services they need as they deal with high unemployment and a public health crisis. The next official update on the state’s budget will come in January, along with the comptroller’s forecast for the 2022-23 budget biennium, before the start of the 87th Session of the Texas Legislature.

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Higher ed board discusses funding possibilities in pandemic, seek to improve student transfer process

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) met this week to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on institutions of higher learning as well recommendations on improving the transfer process for students.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been taking its toll on students seeking higher education in Texas while they grapple with health and employment concerns. The state has committed resources to help keep students experiencing financial hardship enrolled. Earlier this week Gov. Greg Abbott announced that $118 million in federal aid will go to support higher education, which is in addition to the $57 million that had been previously announced for maintaining needs-based programs at colleges and universities. The Texas Emergency Grant Program also has provided $710,000 in grants to institutions to support students experiencing financial hardships.

 

THECB also received an update on work to streamline the transfer process between public institutions. There has been an ongoing effort to identify and remove obstacles to students being able to move from community colleges to universities to complete their four-year degrees. Some 70% of all first- and second-year college students are at a community college, making it the gateway to higher education for many Texans. That said, less than 35% of students starting at community colleges transfer to a university within six years. Some of the persistent challenges to students pursuing four-year degrees include misalignment between curriculums for degree programs, unclear processes, and lack of counseling support for transferring.

During the last legislative session Senate Bill 25 required two- and four-year institutions to report on when credits were transferred but not applied to a degree. The legislation also lowered the threshold for students declaring a degree plan to 30 credit hours and mandated that all institutions have at least one course sequence published for every degree that is offered.

 

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Two great ‘training’ opportunities. One to get your tech skills sharpened. And another to cure what technology is doing to you.

Texas AFT presents a free series of online training for Tech Tools, “Pedagogy in a Virtual World,” on Wednesday through Saturday next week, at 10 a.m. each day on Zoom. We’ll cover Google Classroom, Zoom itself, Schoology, and Microsoft Teams. RSVP and more information is here.

And after sitting on your butt staring at a screen all day, what better way to unwind and get healthy than joining us for our last Wellness Wednesday at 6 p.m. with a Zoom Yoga class. RSVP for free here.

 


 
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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.