June 2, 2023: Schools aren’t failing. Our state is.

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

Friday, June 2, 2023

Illustrated hand with text,

You made a difference this session

We are sorting through the results of this legislative session, and we’ll be recapping each key part of our Respect Agenda and how it fared in the Hotline throughout the summer.

But to start things off, we wanted to take a moment and revisit just 5 of the ways our members made a difference this session.

And if you don’t think we did, just ask the legislators who started forwarding their calls to other numbers to get a break …

  1. We slammed the door shut on school privatization. Not only did Gov. Greg Abbott not get the voucher scam he demanded, but bills to funnel money to fly-by-night virtual education companies (SB 1861/HB 681) and send even MORE money to privately run charter schools (HB 1572) died too.
  2. We defended higher education from an onslaught. AAUP and Texas AFT higher ed members fought so insistently throughout the session that SB 16 (banning CRT in higher ed) never even got a House hearing. SB 18 (anti-tenure) was watered down by significant amendments before it passed.
  3. We won a COLA and a 13th check for retirees. Texas AFT Retiree Plus members were at the Capitol, week after week. The result of their determination is a tiered COLA that will be approved by voters in November and a 13th check that will be delivered later this year.
  4. We fought off even more distractions from real issues. Because you fought for issues that really matter, you deprived distractions of oxygen. A ban on school Pride celebrations (HB 1507), required posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms (SB 1515), and a Texas “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 890) all died this session.
  5. Our members were relentless in advocating for themselves and their students. 3,783 tracked phone calls. 92,277 letters sent. More than 40 educators and parents testified. Our members made more than 100 legislative office visits. That is the largest, most sustained legislative mobilization our union has seen. 

Imagine the impact we could have if more of this state’s 650,000 public school employees joined us. Have you talked to your friends or colleagues about joining our union? Every voice makes a difference when we speak as one. 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • We recap a wild 48 hours of the regular legislative session and the wild beginning of an immediate special session.
  • The numbers don’t lie: the 88th Legislature was a lost session for public education.
  • Just as TEA takes over Houston ISD, it’s retooling accountability standards and all but ensuring more schools will be categorized as “failing.”
  • A Texas AFT Retiree Plus member is a finalist for appointment to the TRS Board of Trustees.
  • Welcome to LGBTQ+ Pride Month!

— Legislature

News from the 88th legislative session

Inside the Legislative Session That Just Won’t End 

While the last 48 hours of a regular legislative session are typically reserved for administrative tasks and ceremonial signings, this session, the Texas House and Senate were in deep negotiations up until the very last minute of session.

Unfortunately, neither side was negotiating to increase educator pay, improve school working conditions, or generally improve our state’s schools in any way. Instead, both sides were arguing two different plans for cutting property taxes.

This past weekend HB 100, the school finance bill by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), which would have increased the basic allotment, officially died after the Texas Senate tried to attach a private school voucher proposal to the bill.

While Gov. Greg Abbott apparently did not feel any urgency to call a special session to support public schools, he did call an immediate special session to address two other issues: property taxes and the border.

Within a few hours of the regular session ending, Abbott called a special session, which convened Tuesday. In his letter announcing the session, Abbott stated this special session would be the first of “several.” Of note, Abbott has stated that he intends to call a special session to push private school voucher schemes.

Things are already feisty in the early days of this special session, which can last for up to 30. And amid all of the drama, the impeachment proceedings for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton continue …

— Legislature

By the Numbers: the 88th Legislature 


The amount of raises the Legislature passed for teacher and school staff raises


The number of bills to limit class sizes or reduce educator workloads that received a committee hearing

28 cents per student

The amount of new money the Legislature invested in school safety in HB 3


The number of representatives who voted for Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer’s amendment to the state budget draft that would have guaranteed a $10,000 across-the-board raise for educators


The number of pages of overwhelmingly negative public comments on voucher bill SB 8, which was later crammed into school finance bill HB 100, ensuring its defeat


The number of full-time employees at the Texas Education Agency, an increase of 54 new positions accounted for in this record-breaking state budget


The amount of the basic allotment that funds public schools that has remained stagnant since 2019 and this Legislature chose, once again, not to raise


The number of 2021 TRS retirees who will be left out of the cost-of-living adjustment passed by the Legislature because of the way the final version of the bill was structured.


The new salary cap for the appointed education commissioner, as budgeted by this Legislature

$1 million+

The price tag for every 30-day special session of the Legislature

$500 million

The amount of money set aside in the state budget to fund a voucher program that did not pass (and has not been allotted for any other use)

$32.7 billion

The amount of Texas’ current budget surplus, larger than the entire budgets of 24 states

$33.4 billion

The price it would have cost for this Legislature to fund our schools to thrive this biennium, with across-the-board raises, increased hiring, and a TRS COLA

$188.2 billion

The total amount of money this Legislature had available for this state budget

— Texas Education Agency

TEA wants to move the A-F goalposts for districts. In Houston ISD, we see the results. 

Yesterday, the Texas Education Agency  announced its takeover of HISD, ousting a democratically elected board and installing a selected board of managers, including charter CEO Mike Miles (more on that below). Despite great academic progress made in the last year, and an overall acceptable rating in 2023, TEA chose to take over the district due to several years of “academically unacceptable performance.”

Savvy legislators understand that what happened in Houston can happen in their school districts. This week, Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), along with a bipartisan group of 55 legislators, sent a letter to Mike Morath asking him to delay the implementation of revised accountability standards.

Commissioner Mike Morath has been at work on a refresh of the A-F accountability system for the last several months, raising the bar for each level of the rating system. Throughout the process, stakeholders have been wondering why, given the learning disruptions of the pandemic and the STAAR redesign this year, TEA would choose to move the goalposts now.

Historically, when there has been a large structural shift in the statewide assessment (remember when we went from TAKS to STAAR?), there is a noticeable drop in test scores across the board. The A-F system’s over-reliance on test scores means that campus performance ratings will likely drop even if student performance remains the same.

Houston Community Voices for Public Education, along with the Houston Federation of Teachers and other community groups, plan to protest outside the first formal meeting of Houston ISD’s new board of managers on Thursday, June 8. More information here. 

It is impossible to ignore the context in which this sudden move of the goalposts is occurring. At the same time that TEA will be categorizing more schools as “failures,” it has just formally begun its takeover of Houston ISD, a B-rated district by TEA’s own standards.

Early Thursday morning, TEA announced its hand-picked superintendent for the district. Mike Miles, a former Dallas ISD superintendent and current charter school CEO, has been selected to replace Superintendent Millard House II, who was popular with both district employees and parents for the sweeping improvements he ushered into Houston ISD.

Miles had a turbulent tenure in Dallas ISD, where he implemented the Teacher Excellence Initiative, a pay-for-performance scheme that served as the inspiration for the inequitable Teacher Incentive Allotment. He left few friends there among educators.

— Teacher Retirement System of Texas

Texas AFT Member Elected As Finalist for TRS Board of Trustees

Phyllis Ruffin speaks at the podium in front of several peers and legislators

Phyllis Ruffin speaks at an April press conference at the Capitol with fellow Texas AFT Retiree Plus members, as well as Rep. John Bryant and Rep. Mihaela Plesa, about the need for a real COLA for retirees. 

This week, Texas AFT retiree Phyllis Ruffin was selected as a finalist to fill a vacant position on the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees. As one of the top-three vote getters, Ruffin is one of three finalists who will be considered by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill the board vacancy.

According to election results, which were announced Tuesday, tens of thousands of votes were cast by active and retired employees across the state. Ruffin received almost 20,000 votes for the “at-large” trustee position on the board; in that position, she could directly represent both active and retired educators on the TRS board.

Baseball cap with the Texas A-F-T logo done as a Pride flag.

Show Your Pride. Fund Our Fight. 

We stand with all LGBTQ+ educators, students, and Texans. This month, show your solidarity publicly and pick up a Texas AFT Pride hat at store.texasaft.org! Every purchase made through our online store serves as a donation to Texas AFT COPE, our union’s political fund.

— LGBTQ+ Pride Month

Texas A-F-T celebrates L-G-B-T-Q Plus Pride Month

Texas AFT Celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride Month 

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the contributions and achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals in all aspects of our society. It’s also a chance to educate about the discrimination and racism faced by these communities, historically and still today.

Each week of Pride Month, Texas AFT will highlight a Texan from our communities and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated by our local leaders.

We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world.

For more ways to support and celebrate your LGBTQ+ students, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.

Rep. Venton Jones

Nominated by Rena Honea, president of Alliance/AFT

A freshman in the Texas House of Representatives, Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas) has already distinguished himself as an advocate for those too often left behind by the Legislature.

This legislative session, Jones stood up for people who often go without a voice, including Texans with HIV, our trans students, and our hard-working and woefully underpaid school support staff.

Jones, who represents HD-100, is the first Black, gay, and openly HIV-positive lawmaker to serve at the Capitol in Austin.

Dr. Kristine A. Vowels

Nominated by Rena Honea, president of Alliance/AFT

Dr. Kristine A. Vowels has worked in education for 27 years and boasts impressive credentials:

  • a doctorate in Supervision, Curriculum, & Instruction from Texas A & M-Commerce
  • a master’s degree in Educational Administration with a valid Texas principal certification
  • a degree in Health and Physical Education from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Currently, Kristine teaches Health and Physical Education at Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy Middle School.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 This class president is the model of a successful Texas teen. After a ban on trans health care, she can’t wait to leave the state. By every standard, Topher Malone is a model of a successful young woman: She’s a straight-A student and class president at Round Rock Independent School District’s Early College High School. Malone is also trans. Malone says having access to gender-affirming treatments before she turned 18 in May allowed her to embrace her true self and channel her energy into her advocacy for LGBTQ youth. But young trans people like Malone who have blossomed with support from teachers, family members and medical professionals will soon be a relic of a bygone era in Texas. (The Texas Tribune, May 31)

📖 Teachers: Frustrated by Texas legislative priorities, lack of funding. Many educators went into this year’s legislative session hopeful that their long hours during the pandemic and a clear staffing crisis would push lawmakers to make substantial investments in public schools. Instead, as the session was wrapping up Monday, many teachers and school staffers were left feeling undervalued and frustrated that lawmakers’ priorities, with issues such as library materials and school choice, don’t seem to line up with theirs. (Austin American-Statesman, May 30)

📖 How a High School Mariachi Team Triumphed in Uvalde. Led by one tireless teacher, a group of teenage musicians came together and became the pride of Uvalde, a Texas town that has suffered unthinkable tragedy. Over the past year, mariachi’s traditions have served a solemn purpose in Uvalde. At funerals, mariachi musicians serenaded the inconsolable. And this is the music that tumbles out of one Uvalde High School classroom. (Rolling Stone, May 29)