July 7, 2023: Kicking Back Into Gear

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

Friday, July 7, 2023

Our schools are back on the menu.

If you’ve read even a single edition of the Hotline in the past month, you know: The Texas Legislature ended its regular session without a single new dollar in state funding for public schools and $0 for teacher and staff raises. 

But the dust hasn’t settled yet. We’re already in the second special session of the 88th Legislature, with more expected. 

What does all this mean for you and your job? How does the property tax debate happening now in Austin affect your schools? And what about vouchers — are they really dead? Join us Tuesday to recap the highlights and lowlights. 

We’ll also take action together, submitting online comments to the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity, which meets July 11-12. 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • We recap what the Legislature did (but mostly didn’t) to recruit new educators to the field. 
  • School funding makes another appearance in the second property tax special session. 
  • President Biden takes a new approach to student debt cancellation after the Supreme Court deals another blow.
  • A bill intended to give charter schools another leg up goes into effect in Texas — but with new requirements for transparency.

— Legislature

Unpacking the Legislature: Educator Recruitment

In August 2022, leaders from AFT, Texas AFT, and several local AFT unions hosted a roundtable discussion with Houston area superintendents, administrators, and experts (including Rep. Alma Allen) on solutions to the current staffing crisis. Practical solutions discussed included “grow your own” educator certification programs.

As we trudge along in the summer and the second special session, it may be hard to recall all the way back in February when the final report of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force was released. We wrote extensively about the report in a series of articles in March, one of which covered training and support for educators. Specifically, the report outlined some proposals for the Legislature to address regarding the teacher pipeline and support for pre-service and novice teachers: grow your own initiatives, teacher residencies, and the teacher mentor program. 

The Legislature failed to deliver on any of these stated priorities in the regular session. Now the question is: Will lawmakers bring them back to the table in a special session?

— Legislature

Legislative Update: Public School Funding, Teacher Pay Enter the Property Tax Special Session

As we reported last week, the second special session on property tax relief began Tuesday, June 27, with agenda items slightly modified from its predecessor. 


In calling this second special session on property taxes, Gov. Greg Abbott ended with a warning to the Legislature: “Unless and until the House and Senate agree on a different proposal to provide property tax cuts, I will continue to call for lasting property tax cuts through rate reductions and working toward eliminating the school property tax in Texas. Special sessions will continue to focus on only property tax cuts until property tax cut legislation reaches my desk.”


The House and Senate have yet to reach an agreement on property tax relief, but there have been significant developments from the Legislature in the past week. Notably: 

  • The Texas Senate has added classroom teacher bonuses to its property tax relief plan, thanks to Sen. Roland Gutierrez. 
  • While Texas House leadership continues to push a plan similar to its first special session proposal, a group of House Democrats announced an alternate plan Thursday that includes a sizable basic allotment increase and educator pay raise. 
  • Amid the property tax debate, vouchers could rear their ugly head again. The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment meets next week — without public testimony.

— Student Debt

Supreme Court Tanks President Biden’s Student Debt Plan

Last Friday, capping a week of consequential decisions — including a devastating ruling for higher education — the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan was unconstitutional. 

In a 6-3 decision on a case challenging Biden’s authority to cancel some $430 billion in student loan debt, the Supreme Court ensured nearly 1.4 million Texans who were poised to have some or all of their student debt forgiven will now have to resume payments on their loan balances. 

The court’s conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, sided with six Republican-led states that alleged Biden overstepped his authority. 

In responding to the court’s decision, Biden announced a new plan of attack to complete his campaign promise of providing relief to borrowers. 

“Today’s decision has closed one path. Now we’re going to pursue another,” Biden said, announcing new steps being taken under the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, which provides government-backed student loans and grants the Department of Education the ability to “compromise, waive, or release loans.” 

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has been tasked with creating a legal workaround for debt forgiveness using his authority under the HEA. In the interim, the Biden Administration is working to implement an income-driven repayment plan and establish a 12-month “on-ramp” period to help borrowers when student loan repayments resume in October.

— Privatization

New Charter School Regulations Targeting Self-Dealing, Lack of Transparency Set to Go Into Effect

Passed during the regular legislative session and recently signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, House Bill 1707, filed by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-North Richland Hills), was designed to increase charter school expansion and had been pushed by the charter school industry and its lobbyists over the past four legislative sessions. 

The good news: While the bill neared the finish line this year, lawmakers added a few key provisions that will increase transparency for charter schools and target self-dealing in real estate transactions conducted by charter school operators.

Those amendments are critical. A  San Antonio Express- News investigation earlier this year uncovered numerous shocking examples of charter schools using state funds to purchase property with little educational purpose, including a Houston high-rise luxury condominium,105 acres of property that include a house with a pool, and former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s luxury horse ranch, just to name a few.

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