June 12: Texas AFT wins lawsuit on in-district charter rules; Districts not receiving fed funds as anticipated; TEA to provide PPE, reopening guidance

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Monday is the last day to register to vote for July 14 Primary Election runoffs and special election

Ballot BoxIf you’re still not registered to vote and want to participate in the July 14 Primary Election runoffs, Monday is your final deadline for that election. Reminder: If you didn’t vote at all in the March primaries, you can vote in the runoffs for either the Democratic or Republican races (not both). If you did vote in the March election, you can only cast ballots in the runoff for the party primary you voted in for the March election. Find all voting and registration resources at votetexas.gov.

Texas AFT victorious in lawsuit to protect teachers’ rights in district ‘partnerships’ with charter schools

San Antonio Alliance membersSan Antonio Alliance members fought the charter takeover of a district elementary school.

In a significant victory for teachers’ rights in the face of charter-school takeovers, a Travis County District Court this week ruled that the Texas Education Agency had no authority to write rules that prevented teacher input and put their district contract rights in jeopardy when facing a charter takeover on their campus.

At question in the Texas AFT lawsuit were TEA rules written around SB 1882, a controversial law that allows districts to “partner” with charter school operators and other nonprofits to run campuses rated “Improvement Required” for five years under state accountability laws (based heavily on STAAR scores). SB 1882 gave threatened districts a reprieve from state sanctions in exchange for additional funds and handing over control to the charter operator. The alternative for districts that do not hand over control to a charter under SB 1882 is state takeover of the entire district just for one campus not meeting these standards–a situation we now see in Houston ISD. The financial incentive for the SB 1882 partnerships amounts to a charter school per-pupil funding advantage—up to $1,900 more per student—to the district for students on these “partner” charter campuses.

The Legislature had included a minor safeguard in the law requiring districts to provide teachers a direct voice in developing the provisions of the contract with the charter operator to run the campus, with existing school district policies and teacher contract rights as the default for operating the campus. TEA rules illegally nullified the requirement for teacher input by misreading the language of the law and ignoring the intent of legislators. Additionally, it allowed the “partner” charter operator to have complete control over school policies and employee rights.

“SB 1882 was a perverse law to begin with, since it offered money and an escape from state sanctions—ones that are based on a misuse of testing—to districts as a way to fuel charter expansion,” said Zeph Capo, Texas AFT president. “The law is just another piece of an overall agenda to create new charter campuses, even within our existing high-performing public school districts.”

The lawsuit stems from a partner agreement San Antonio ISD created with Democracy Prep to avoid possible sanctions at Stewart Elementary. Our local union, the San Antonio Alliance, contended that teachers weren’t allowed meaningful input in developing a contract to create the in-district charter. TEA attempted to say that only “open-enrollment charter schools”—a specific term applying to charters granted by the state for operating in Texas—applied to that provision and not to other nonprofits. (Democracy Prep is an out-of-state charter operator without that status.) The San Antonio Alliance and Texas AFT sued TEA. They argued successfully that the law’s intent and actual wording made the provisions apply to all entities applying to be a partner and that TEA did not have the authority to change those requirements with its rules. Previous legal attempts, however, to halt the takeover of Stewart Elementary by Democracy Prep were unsuccessful in court.

“The overall purpose of SB 1822 is misguided,” Capo said. “Nevertheless, we understand how enticing these incentives can be to districts, so if they are going to take this route, teachers should at least be afforded the protection of the law for having a say in how their campuses will be run and what policy they will be working under.”


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TEA announces PPE distribution to districts as it readies to release guidance on school reopenings

Masked teacher cleaning class

The Texas Education Agency this week announced that it would take the lead in acquiring and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to districts for the start of the next school year. It’s also expected that TEA will release guidance on reopening campuses next week, likely expanding on what was already released for summer school operations.

We will be scrutinizing this guidance carefully, as we realize the deep concern school employees, parents, and students have about returning to campuses. AFT already has released its own detailed reopening plan and guidance on safety, logistical issues, and stakeholder involvement.

TEA is still working on the logistics of the PPE distribution, which will be tied to the number of students and staff members in each district, but the agency notes that the PPE should arrive at districts between mid-July and early August. Distributed will be disposable and reusable masks, gloves, thermometers, hand sanitizers, face shields, and desk dividers.

We’re hopeful that this bold and much-needed initiative will be implemented properly, particularly since many districts are now altering their calendars to start in early August.

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CARES Act funding for Texas school districts to be used for current district budgets; move makes it clear the additional federal funding will be crucial

HEROES ActThe Texas share of the federal CARES Act—which provides a variety of relief packages like unemployment benefits, business loans and grants, and direct aid to states—amounted to about $1.3 billion dollars in grants to relieve financial burdens on Texas school districts from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Texas Education Agency announced this week that much of that funding will instead be used to meet existing budget expenditures for the coming school year, a move prompted by sharply declining state revenue. In essence, the federal money—to a large degree—will end up supplanting existing district money instead of providing additional funding. The impacts to districts will vary widely, depending on how much money they were entitled to receive and how pandemic expenditures were offset by campus closures. Districts had wide leeway to use the funds for different programs. As a KVUE TV story notes, Austin ISD expected $16 million, while Lago Vista was to receive $127,000. (Federal funding still is available to districts for direct reimbursement for pandemic expenses.)

The change signals how critical it will be for the federal government to step up and pass additional aid to states and local governments—namely the HEROES Act, which would provide significant funding needed for districts to avoid harmful cuts in the coming year.

And while the costs of the initial campus closures are mixed, a new AFT study shows that reopening costs will be overwhelming. As the report states, “The analysis costs out an additional $116.5 billion for instructional staff, distance learning, before and after -school care, transportation, personal protective equipment, cleaning and health supplies, health staffing, custodial and cleaning staff, meeting children’s social and emotional needs, and additional academic support for students. The average school will need to see an extra $1.2 million, or $2,300 per student, to open its doors.”



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Fifth annual Texas Community Schools Summit is coming up (virtually) on June 16-17    

Texas AFT has been the leader in initiatives for community schools–programs that use intense community involvement to provide students and their families with a wide variety of academic and social-service resources–to help schools thrive and students achieve.

So we urge you to join teams and individuals from across Texas for the 5th annual Texas Community Schools Summit on June 16-17. The two-day virtual summit will provide tools for building thriving community school efforts. You may register as an individual or as part of a campus team. Parents and community partners are also welcome.

While we cannot meet in person, we will still have a great time working together virtually to create amazing community school strategies for the coming school year. Our Summit this year will focus on the theme of “Innovation.” If ever there was a time to think differently with the challenges of the pandemic, this is it. Whether you’re new to community schools or have been involved for a while, you’ll find information, inspiration and tools you need to prepare for the 2020-21 school year. We encourage you to bring teams to take advantage of our virtual facilitated planning time.

And don’t worry If you feel “zoomed out” from so many video conferences. The summit is going to be fun, informative, and engaging—including our Shark Tank Competition, in which each team will have three minutes to “wow” our panel of judges with one of your innovative ideas for next year. The winning team will receive a $500 prize for their campus!

NOTE: We are working, as always, to make the summit bilingual (English/Spanish). Details will be announced. Sponsored by Austin Voices for Education and Youth, Austin ISD, Texas AFT, and Save Texas Schools.

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Virtual Statewide Summit on retiree issues set for June 25    

We believe that retirees deserve a state organization that will stand strong to protect their annuity and health care through TRS. Texas AFT Retiree Plus would like to invite you to join us in a Virtual Statewide Summit on Thursday, June 25, 2020 at 11 a.m. At the Summit, you will have an opportunity to hear what we have accomplished in our first year, and hear a panel discuss:

  • Cost-of-living increases for TRS pensions
  • Healthcare news
  • Legislative issues facing retirees, and much much more!
  • You will also have an opportunity to Join Retiree Plus and volunteer for advocacy on issues, elections and other events.

The meeting will be held by Zoom, and you can register 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.