June 24, 2022: State Senate hearings on school safety; SCOTUS makes ruling favorable to vouchers; Some unsavory details about the charters rejected by the SBOE

Mike Morath, waring a charcoal suit and plum tie, sits in front of a microphone testifying at a Senate hearing

Education Commissioner Mike Morath takes questions from state senators in a school safety hearing this week.

Texas Senate hears testimony on school safety and mental health in the wake of Uvalde


This week, the Texas Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans held back-to-back hearings on school safety and mental health in the wake of devastating reporting on the utter failure of law enforcement leadership in response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.


While there was much useful expert testimony about how to improve school safety and access to mental healthcare in our schools and communities, teachers were not invited to make their voices heard. The committee largely avoided discussing desperately needed and broadly popular gun safety reform and focused on behavioral issues, discipline, and culture instead.


Thank you to Sen. Royce West for taking time in the hearing to emphasize the importance of teachers’ experience as frontline employees with valuable knowledge to contribute to the discourse and for calling out our missing seat at the table. The stakes are high for public school staff as nurturers and protectors of our students.


As these conversations evolve, we must ensure that our elected officials address all the challenges facing public education in Texas with the urgency they deserve.


The 88th Texas Legislature—which convenes in January—must provide adequate funding to meet the diverse needs of our public schools in this moment of crisis and guarantee that school districts are not pressured to choose between investing in school safety and mental health or paying their staff long-overdue raises.

S-B-O-E members sit at their desks forming a large circle

SBOE rejection of charter applicants reveals the unsavory politics of candidates trying to buy board seats

In the last Hotline, we reported our victory over damaging charter-school expansion as the State Board of Education vetoed four of five charters recommended by the Texas Education Agency.

For more context on the win, understand that charter backers have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to SBOE candidates looking to give new charter applicants smooth sailing for approval by the board. Many of those candidates are also trying to inject their agenda for banning racial topics and sex education in schools.

The Texas Tribune reported that the chair of the board for one of the rejected charters—Stuart Saunders of Heritage Classical Academy—was a significant donor to charter PACs while his charter application was being reviewed by TEA. Saunders donated $52,500 to the Freedom Foundation of Texas PAC, a charter backer fighting the supposed “indoctrination” of children by public schools. The PAC raised over $600,000 this year to back pro-charter candidates. The article includes several other facts that raise eyebrows about these charters, including a Heritage school board member who reportedly said the 2017 Women’s March in Washigton, DC, was an attempt to impose sharia law in the United States.

Supreme Court ruling likely to fuel private-school voucher backers wanting taxpayer money to fund religious schools


On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of parents in Maine who argued that the state’s ban on taxpayer money going to religious private schools is unconstitutional—a ruling that could energize voucher backers in Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court building front facade with six giant columns and ornately carved figures above inscription of

The vote was 6-3, with all six conservative justices siding with the parents. The case in Maine is a limited use of tax dollars for private tuition in sparsely populated rural areas without high schools, but the implications for the rest of the country could be significant.


Writing for the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued: “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” Justice Sonia Sotomayer countered in her dissent: “What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was leading us…to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.’ Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”


Texas AFT and our allies have beaten back voucher schemes for more than two decades in the Texas Legislature, so voucher proponents still have a high hurdle to achieve any kind of taxpayer money funding private school tuition. It’s also highly unlikely that the Legislature would have banned public money for religious schools had any voucher legislation passed. (Even though our state constitution clearly prohibits “appropriations for sectarian purposes.”) Still, any proposed voucher program moving forward in Texas would now face little legal opposition based on the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution.

Gov. Greg Abbott also could fuel voucher attempts, since he has supported them on the campaign trail. Texas AFT will be there to oppose vouchers in any form, and recent polling shows Texans stand with our position.