Texas AFT Convention: Officers re-elected, 9 resolutions passed
Texas AFT convened its 30th biennial convention (and our first virtual convention) on June 25. With the theme “We Fight, We Win,” convention speakers and updates highlighted not only the challenges of the past year (both pandemic and political) but the victories hard-won by our members and leaders.
Underscoring those victories, several local unions won awards for growing membership in their districts and increasing donations to their political action funds — even under the constraints of the pandemic.
Congratulations to the following local unions on their achievements: Aldine AFT, Alliance-AFT, Education Austin, Education Round Rock, Goose Creek AFT, Houston Educational Support Personnel, Houston Federation of Teachers, La Joya AFT, Northeast Houston AFT, the San Antonio Alliance, and Socorro AFT.
Four featured keynote speakers addressed delegates through recorded or live presentations:
- AFT President Randi Weingarten
- Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter
- U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia
- State Board of Education Member Matt Robinson
Their remarks covered a host of issues faced by our union, educators, and all Americans, including attacks on our democracy, continued attempts to ban meaningful civics education, and the threat of charter school expansion in Texas.
“We — all of us — want a more inclusive, more equitable, safer world for our kids, our members, and our communities,” Weingarten said in her remarks. “We want more than that. We want the freedom to thrive.”
She went on to explain AFT’s plan for national school building reopening and the reimagining of public schools.
True recovery, Weingarten said, includes “the emotional and the academic and the social supports that we need for our kids in our schools: community schools, guidance counselors, school nurses. From making sure school is a safe and welcoming place for any child to fighting for better wages and decent retirement income for all of our members.”
You can watch Weingarten’s full remarks on our Youtube channel.
After providing updates on the state of our union and its financial health, President Zeph Capo and Secretary-Treasurer Ray McMurrey were re-elected for another two-year term.
In total, delegates passed nine resolutions to guide our union’s work in the coming years. The resolutions ran the gamut, focusing on union-building, social justice, and retirement equity for all school employees.
Here are some of the notable resolutions:
- In Support of LGBTQIA+ Youth and Educators: Texas AFT is resolved to provide support and resources to local unions to engage with school district officials on the urgent need to recruit, retain, and respect LGBTQIA+ educators. Texas AFT is also resolved to oppose the passage of state laws or local policies that discriminate against students and condemns the actions taken by the Texas Legislature to condone discrimination against transgender youth.
- Saving Democracy: Texas AFT and local affiliates call for the immediate resignation of Sen. Ted Cruz for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. Texas AFT is further resolved to oppose all measures that seek to abridge voting rights in Texas. Our union resolves to support measures that make it easier to vote.
- Providing Support in Building Union Power for Higher Education Workers in Texas: Texas AFT resolves to renew our commitment to higher education organizing, stepping up efforts to strengthen our higher education local unions and remain open to possible opportunities for new higher ed organizing.
- Texas Legislature to Provide a Cost-of-Living Adjustment to All Retired TRS Members Effective Immediately: Texas AFT members call upon the Texas Legislature to provide a COLA to all retired TRS members immediately, with an initial 9% increase followed by an annual COLA based on the Consumer Price Index.
- Changing Social Security to Provide Full Access and Equity for All Educational Employees: Texas AFT will support and advocate for the passage of legislation to close the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision provisions. Our union also will advocate for all federal and state legislation needed to allow all Texas education employees full access to Social Security.
Department of Education sends letter to TEA on COVID-19 relief funds
On June 30, the Department of Education wrote to the Texas Education Agency and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the agency’s plans for the state’s federal COVID-19 relief for education.
As we and other education advocates have noted, TEA released the bulk of remaining federal aid to schools in June but reserved some of the funding to reimburse itself for the cost of the “hold harmless” funding provision.
The Department of Education’s letter reminds Texas officials that the “purpose of the ESSER II funds is to provide additional resources to states” for recovery in school districts, not to “supplant the state’s commitment to education funding.”
Local Leader Spotlight: John Burghduff, President of AFT-Lone Star College
John Burghduff took over as president of AFT-Lone Star College this year, following in the footsteps of two impressive leaders. Burghduff’s union represents faculty and staff on the seven major campuses of the Lone Star College system.
“As people have challenges with their workplace, we are available to help out and help people understand the value of a union,” Burghduff said. “We work for people and for policy.”
House Speaker issues border-related assignments to committees
Last week, Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan issued interim charges for 12 Texas Legislature committees. Each committee’s charges are related to the Texas-Mexico border.
Along with specific charges related to their work, each committee received a general directive from the speaker to review the distribution of federal pandemic recovery funds and to see how these funds could be used potentially to respond to the perceived crisis at the border.
The Public Education Committee was directed to examine “the impact, including any financial impact, to the Texas public school system of an increase in the number of children crossing the Texas-Mexico border.”
We worry this charge is intended to blame immigrant children for the financial strain the Texas education system has been put under. The real solution to our underfunded education system is for the Legislature itself to enact meaningful changes to shore up funding for public education in our state.
Things promise to remain lively at the Capitol for the immediate future. The regular session of the 87th Legislature concluded a month ago, but legislators are scheduled to return for a special session later this week — with another special session likely on the horizon. Phelan’s statement also mentioned that additional charges on other issues, unrelated to the border, will be distributed at a later date.
STAAR test scores are low — as we all knew they would be
The Texas Education Agency released spring STAAR test results for grades 3-8 this week that showed, for the first time since 2012, the number of students meeting grade-level proficiency in math and science started to decline, with the math portion of the assessment accounting for the biggest drop in test scores.
Obviously, these scores were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to TEA, students who received mostly virtual instruction had a more significant decline in standardized test scores in math and reading compared to those who received mostly in-person instruction.
Texas AFT argued strenuously for the cancellation of the test this year, as did many lawmakers during the 87th Legislature, arguing that STAAR put undue strain on overburdened students and teachers — all for results anyone could have predicted.
Our union also successfully fought for the direct release of federal COVID-19 relief aid, which many school districts now are using to stem “learning loss” through increased summer school programs, tutoring, and investing in retaining and rewarding teachers.
Mourning the loss of our union’s ‘happy warrior’
TEACH 2021 will will be held virtually this year on July 6-10 and will feature:
- Inspiring speakers on key issues, like rebuilding academically from the pandemic and creating anti-racist communities
- Engaging cross-curricular sessions with meaningful tools and resources to use in your school
- Solutions to ensure students’ social emotional learning and the freedom to thrive
- Opportunities to collaborate with colleagues
Register now! You can also join the TEACH 2021 community on Share My Lesson to review conference content from 2019, find related resources, and join the discussion about what you hope to see at TEACH 2021.