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AFT convention highlights union action for safe reopenings. Meanwhile, state officials sow confusion on rules for Texas on-site instruction.
AFT President Randi Weingarten
The American Federation of Teachers, our national affiliate, wrapped up its virtual convention yesterday after a week of programs and conversations examining the challenges ahead in educating our schoolchildren in a pandemic.
AFT President Randi Weingarten made it clear in her conversations and state of the union speech that the union will make safety the priority in decisions around the country and stressed that “nothing is off the table” with union actions in local districts to resist unsafe reopenings. You can find more convention coverage here and daily news items here.
Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released legal advice claiming that local health authorities cannot delay school reopenings. Shortly after, the Texas Education Agency revised its guidance to state that districts closing with no on-site instruction based solely on the order of these authorities would not receive state funding. The moves spurred confusion among officials in districts in the five major urban counties with health authority orders mandating starts for on-site instruction to be delayed until September 8.
The attorney general opinion and reaction from TEA does create a risk that some districts will backtrack and plan for on-site instruction sooner. AFT and Texas AFT continue to demand that areas have declining infections for 14 days and other specific metrics before decisions are made to resume on-site instruction.
While we work on the next steps, we encourage you to sign this petition from our friends at Just Fund It TX to ask the governor to keep Texas schools fully funded.
Be sure to stay tuned to our Facebook page for evolving news on reopenings.
Abbott waives grade-promotion requirements for STAAR
Earlier this week Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the STAAR will go on. However, the grade-promotion requirement for 5th and 8th grades will be waived for the upcoming school year. Under normal circumstances, schools must factor in a student’s test scores on the STAAR to determine whether the student can move on to the next grade. As of now there has been no announcement on a waiver for high school students needing to take the STAAR to graduate.
“Parents deserve to know how well their children have learned grade level knowledge and skills in reading and math, especially in a time when education has been substantially disrupted,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “And educators use this valuable information to make adjustments to support students the following year. But there is no benefit to our children by requiring them to repeat a year based on a single test score given the disruptions of COVID, so we are waiving the grade promotion requirements from STAAR this year for our students.”
STAAR is designed to rank schools and students on content learned during the regular school year. Given that there is nothing regular about the 2020-2021 school year, many parents, educators, and lawmakers are calling on the state to reconsider its decision and the STAAR’s value as a diagnostic tool. State Rep. Gina Hinojosa spoke out saying, “It doesn’t make sense to me right now that the state of Texas would increase stress on kids and families at a time when there are unprecedented stresses on kids and families. What we need to do is do everything we can to help teachers and districts facilitate engagement of students in this novel world in which they have to learn.”
TEA and the Governor are being even less flexible with school districts as the A-F rating system will still be in effect for next year despite the uncertainty schools are facing and the raging coronavirus epidemic. Morath promises adjustments, such as larger windows for test administration, will be made but insists that schools must be kept accountable.
Governor extends early voting for November election, but more is needed to bolster voting and make it safe
Governor Greg Abbott extended the early voting period for the November 3 Election by nearly a week. Early voting will begin on Tuesday, October 13, and continues through Friday, October 30. The order also expands the period in which marked mail-in ballots may be delivered in person to the early voting clerk’s office, allowing such delivery prior to as well as on Election Day. You can request a mail-in ballot here!
National public health and voting experts agree that we need expanded mail voting for Texans under the age of 65, more money for county clerks to carry out elections, and leadership from our state leaders that supports voters instead of disenfranchising their rights. But Texas AFT will continue to fight for your right to cast a ballot safely. If you are a Texas AFT member and want to support our efforts, donate to help us stand up for voting rights in Texas!
HEROES ACT: Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have failed to step up for Texas educators
Texas schools stand to lose billions of dollars in funding due to the economic catastrophe caused by the pandemic. We need help now and this might be our last chance before the election.
We need Senators Cornyn and Cruz to wake up and pay attention. We need their leadership in passing the HEROES Act to safely reopen schools. Our children and our schools are at stake. Write the Senate now and demand that Cornyn and Cruz wake up and support the HEROES Act.
State rep highlights need to deny charter-school expansion this year
State Rep. Gina Calanni—who represents the west Houston and Katy areas—sent a letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week asking him to reject some 100 applications for amendments to expand charter schools. The state grants an “open-enrollment charter” to operators to define a set number of campuses. But those operators can then apply for amendments to add campuses each year, with no public input.. These expansion requests often do not provide proper notice to nearby public school districts and do not adequately justify their proposed expansion.
Calanni wrote: “The approval of these nearly 100 charter expansions would mean an additional cost to the state of approximately $90 million annually above the cost to the system if these students were enrolled in a public school district. This would come at a time when all state agencies and school districts are facing significant budget crises. In addition, at least one charter requesting expansion is currently being investigated by TEA after whistleblower complaints about the treatment of students with special needs”
In April, Texas AFT made the same request in a joint letter with 17 other education organizations.
House Bill 3, passed in 2019, now prohibits the issuance or renewal of a “Legacy Master Teacher” certificate, which is a certification that a few veteran teachers still possess. Last week the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) decided to approve the proposal to eliminate the expiration date for the Legacy Master Teacher Certificate. This means any teacher who currently holds this certification will be grandfathered in to retain the certificate indefinitely.
This rule change will be finally approved at SBEC’s October 9, 2020 meeting. The SBEC met again today in a special meeting to provide more flexibility to Educator Preparation Programs to conduct field experience virtually, allowing teachers to fulfill this requirement online. Quality field experience is crucial to a teacher’s proper preparation to serve students in a classroom. SBEC staff recognizes the importance of high-quality field experience for new teachers and recommended this change be temporary, only through the 2020-2021 school year to account for the on-campus constraints due to COVID-19.
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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.