July 28, 2023: AFT in Washington, in Austin, in Your District

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

Friday, July 28, 2023

Education Austin president Ken Zarifis at the White house.

Houston Federation of Teachers president Jackie Anderson in front of conference sign.

Education Austin, Houston Federation of Teachers Presidents Represent Texas at Nation’s Capitol

Last week, two Texas AFT local union presidents traveled to Washington D.C. to represent Texas educators on the national stage. 

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, journeyed to D.C. to participate in the AFT TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) Conference 2023. The conference includes several professional development workshops that outline strategies to help support educators and the communities they serve. The opportunity also encouraged collaboration between educators across the nation on real solutions to help our students (and the school employees who serve them) thrive

At the conference, Anderson met with AFT leaders from across the country to sound the alarm about the situation in Houston ISD. During the trip, Anderson also met with Communications Workers of America President Claude Cummings Jr. at the CWA headquarters (pictured above).

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis, meanwhile, was invited to the White House to participate in the Communities In Action: Building A Better Texas, a forum hosted by the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to discuss the impact of President Joe Biden’s economic plan in Texas.

With diverse representation of Texans in a variety of job roles and representing a wide spectrum of interest, the forum focused on how Biden Administration policies have had an effect on building a strong workforce with quality jobs. That AFT leaders like Zarifis were invited underscores how critical high-quality public education is to building a strong, equitable economy — something perennially under threat from our own state leadership. 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • We unpack the Legislature’s complete failure to improve working and learning conditions in our school — and what we (and you) can do about it.
  • How are our state lawmakers doing on public education? Take our short survey and tell us what you think. 
  • There are facts, and there is fiction. Both were present in the debate on school vouchers this week. 
  • TEA’s curriculum advisory committees need your voice. 
  • The slapdash experiments in state-occupied Houston ISD should worry us all.

— Legislature

Unpacking the Legislature: Your Working Conditions

Northeast Houston AFT President Shonda Below with a student at Texas A-F-T’s Public Education Advocacy Day in March 2023.

Northeast Houston AFT President Shonda Below with a student at Texas AFT’s Public Education Advocacy Day in March 2023. Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios.

When the Texas Education Agency released the results of their now infamously ignored Teacher Vacancy Taskforce Report, their recommendations fell into three broad categories: 

While these recommendations were not perfect, they did include many positive changes that would have been important — if implemented. 

During the subsequent legislative session, the Legislature failed to make any progress on training and support or compensation, but when it came to working conditions, the lawmakers truly outdid themselves. Instead of improving educator working conditions, the Legislature actually made things worse for you. The primary driver behind this backwards momentum on the issue of working conditions was a single bill: HB 1605. 

Outside of HB 1605, the session for working conditions mirrored the results for the other issues outlined. Good bills were left to die, and no meaningful progress was achieved.

What’s your work environment like? Tell us.

Lawmakers heard from educators about their plight in the classroom, but evidently they refused to take action. This fall we won’t just tell them about the real problems. We’ll show them via our Strive to Thrive tracking project. 

We are looking for Texas public school employees in all job roles — in both K-12 and higher education — to participate in a monthlong project. Our goal: track the real issues in our schools. Learn more and sign up to participate in the project!

— Legislature

Image reads: State of Texas Education. Your thoughts on the 88th legislature.

Texas AFT wants to know how public school employees across the state feel about this legislative session — and the potential special session to come. We ask all K-12 and higher education employees to take this 5-minute survey. Out of respect for your time, all participants will be entered into a raffle for a $250 Visa gift card. To be entered to win, you must complete the survey by noon CT, Saturday, Aug. 9.

— Privatization

Fact vs. Fiction: The ‘Demand’ for School Vouchers

David DeMatthews, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas, and David S. Knight, associate professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington, broke down school voucher rhetoric in the Houston Chronicle this week.

The Legislature may be adjourned (for the moment), but state leaders’ quest to bring a private school voucher program to Texas is far from finished. 

Gov. Greg Abbott’s attacks on public education and educators have continued in a steady drumbeat on social media, and he has paired those attacks repeatedly with “evidence” of the demand for school vouchers

And it’s not just the governor. At a panel discussion hosted by The Texas Tribune this week, state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), the author of voucher bill SB 8 this session, echoed those claims:

“The governor … didn’t establish school choice as an emergency item because traveling the state told him that school choice was not the preference of most Texas parents. He established school choice as an emergency item because he heard that parents across this state not only preferred it, but demanded it.”

On its face, this is a disingenuous claim as the governor’s barnstorming voucher tour almost exclusively visited small religious private schools. It’s easy to wonder if he talked to any public school parents. 

But let’s entertain the question: Is Sen. Creighton right? Are the parents of Texas demanding “school choice”?

— Texas Education Agency

TEA Recruiting Advisory Committee Members, Application Deadline Aug 25

Just because the Legislature is not in session (for now), that doesn’t mean the policy work stops. The Texas Education Agency is always in the process of revising its rules and regulations for our Texas classrooms. Frequently, TEA seeks educator involvement. It’s critical that our members participate in these ongoing conversations so that our districts, teachers, and students can strive to thrive — not just survive.

Currently, TEA is taking applications for Teacher Pedagogy, ELAR Content, and Math Content Educator Standards Advisory Committees. These committees will work to draft educator standards that are responsive to recent legislation, including HB 159 (related to instructing students with disabilities) and SB 226 (related to virtual instruction), from the 2021 legislative session, and HB 1605 (instructional materials), from the 2023 legislative session. 

TEA is currently seeking committee member applications from the State Board for Educator Certification, professional organizations, educator preparation programs, teacher organizations and unions, and other key stakeholders to ensure each standards advisory committee represents a group of highly qualified educators. The application submission period is open now and ends Aug. 25, 2023.

— Houston Takeover

Update from Houston ISD: Fighting for the ‘Heart & Soul of Learning’

Nearly two months have passed since the Texas Education Agency’s occupation of Houston ISD began. With just weeks before the start of school in Houston, much remains unclear. But one thing is certain: Houston educators, students, and families should brace for a deluge of hastily implemented experiments. 

The other thing that has become crystal clear? What we are seeing in Houston is a version of what state leaders — including our appointed education commissioner — would like to play out in districts across the state. 

For that reason, we should all be paying attention. If the following “innovative” policies could happen in a B-rated school district — the state’s largest — then they could happen anywhere: 

  • Test score-based teacher pay
  • Turning libraries into detention centers
  • Mass staff layoffs

The threat is even more real with TEA “refreshing” the state’s A-F accountability system, raising the bar for each level of the rating system.

A-F-T logo

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Recommended Reading

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

📖 Texas A&M suspended professor accused of criticizing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in lecture. The professor, an expert on the opioids crisis, was placed on paid administrative leave and investigated, raising questions about the extent of political interference in higher education, particularly in health-related matters. (Texas Tribune, July 25)  


📖 Teachers union issues report calling out extremely negative impact of social media on education, students. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the country’s second largest teacher’s union, issued a report with the American Psychological Association (APA) to address what it sees are the ways social media companies are actively contributing to worsening mental health in school aged kids, as well as destructive behaviors by those kids in the name of clout. (WOAI, July 24) 

📖 Retired teachers could soon get a pay bump, but voters need to approve it. Rita Runnels is one of many retired public school teachers who petitioned for higher pay at the Texas State Capitol this year. In Texas, retirees can get a pension based on age and years of service. Since retiring in 2008, Runnels has never seen that payment increase. (Spectrum News, July 25)