June 28, 2024: Religious Freedom Fight

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

Friday, June 28, 2024

America’s teachers feel stress, burned out, and unfairly paid at about twice the rate of comparable working adults, according to the 2024 State of the American Teacher Survey from RAND, the nonpartisan nonprofit.  

Que sorpresa. What’s driving this rampant level of distress? Many of the same things our own members have said, including those not in support or non-teaching positions: “They attribute a majority of their stress to managing student behavior, administrative work outside of teaching, and low salaries.” 

At this point, the question is not whether educators, in this state and elsewhere nationwide, are ready to quit. We know the answer is yes. The question isn’t even, “Why do they want to quit?” 

The only question before us is: What are we, together, going to do about it?  

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • The State Board of Education heard TEA’s case for five new charter schools. The board rejected two, and we’ve got the data to show why that’s so important.
  • A new report ranks Texas 43rd in the nation for overall child well-being.
  • Our neighbor to the east, Louisiana, just passed the Ten Commandments classroom bill educators fought off last year.
  • In good news, Texas AAUP-AFT is welcoming several new chapters this month from colleges and universities across the state.  

— State Board of Education

The Growing Financial Strain of Charter School Expansion on Texas Public Schools 

Image reads: eyes on the board.

Every year, the State Board of Education (SBOE) approves new charter schools following a comprehensive application, review, and public hearing process that culminates in late June. The commissioner of education also approves dozens of new charter schools through the charter expansion amendment process each year, a process which lacks SBOE input and involves minimal accountability and transparency with no public notice or hearings. 

In response to public education stakeholders from across the state voicing their concerns, the SBOE vetoed two of the five Generation 29 charter applications in its preliminary vote on Wednesday, June 26, including two of the three new charters that our union has been most concerned about: Infinite Minds and Visionary STEM Academy.

— Religious Freedom

Oklahoma Education Under Attack: Supreme Court Blocks First Religious Charter School, Superintendent Requires Teaching of the Bible 

Efforts to send taxpayer dollars to religious entities suffered an important blow this week as the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided that state funding for a religiously affiliated charter school violated not only the Oklahoma Constitution but also the U.S. Constitution. The Oklahoma Supreme Court, the membership of which is nominated by a state commission and appointed by the governor, ruled 6-2 that state funding for the proposed school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, would violate the establishment clause of the constitution. 

Despite St. Isidore’s charter being supported by both Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, and his superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters, the case to rescind the charter was filed by Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond. 


And in a whirlwind of a week for our neighbors to the north, Supt. Walters released a separate announcement on Thursday that all traditional public schools in the state would be directed to teach the Bible, including the Ten Commandments. This directive comes the same week as a similar move in Louisiana. Like the Louisiana case, this directive will also likely be met with a court challenge. 

— LGBTQ+ Rights

Student Activists, 30+ Organizations Defend Title IX Protections for All Students 

Collection of organization logos that signed on to the letter.

This past week, Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT) was joined by 30+ organizations, including Texas AFT, in sending an open letter to more than 1,000 superintendents of Texas public schools, urging them to uphold the legal protections promised by Title IX. The letter calls on superintendents “to clarify federal legal guidance, condemn Gov. Abbott’s active refusal to accept Title IX protections, and urge districts to uphold their duty to support and embrace all Texas students.” 


The letter comes after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ignore a Biden administration rule that expanded Title IX protections to LGBTQIA+ Texans, an executive action that is consistent with the Supreme Court and federal judicial precedent. The new rules go into effect in August and are intended to stop discriminatory conduct based on sex stereotypes, pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation by expanding the definition of sex discrimination and sex-based harassment. On the same day that Abbott announced the order, chronically indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden Administration, seeking to block the Title IX changes. 

— Higher Education

Texas AAUP-AFT President Brian Evans speaks to media in May 2024 with allied groups and elected officials, including state Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston) and state Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio).  

Texas AAUP-AFT Welcomes New Chapters at 12 Universities Across Texas 

In the wake of last year’s unprecedented attacks against higher education in the Texas Legislature and the draconian crackdowns on free speech by campus administrators, Texas AAUP (American Association of University Professors) has welcomed new chapters at 12 universities across the state since the beginning of this year.  


Texas AAUP, which recently affiliated with Texas AFT, has been a bulwark against attacks on higher education – both in the state legislature and on individual college campuses – and has provided an important framework for university professors and other higher education employees to organize around to make their voices heard. 

— Elections

Texas Elections Are Awash in Money. McAllen Voters Could Change That Locally This November.  

Texas AFT applauds our coalition ally Ground Game Texas for turning in over 5,000 signatures to qualify for a McAllen ballot measure that would limit campaign contributions and give city voters the powers of initiative, referendum, and recall. 

Educators were aghast at the unlimited PAC money that unduly influenced Republican primaries this year. In order for educators to truly thrive, we need to remove the influence of unlimited corporate and billionaire money from our politics, and that effort starts with local initiatives like the work Ground Game Texas is doing in McAllen. 

— Religious Freedom

Louisiana passes bill requiring 10 Commandments to be displayed in public school classrooms 

In Louisiana, lawmakers passed a law that would require all public schools to display the 10 Commandments in classrooms. The bill, which was signed into law by Governor Jeff Landry last week, has drawn lots of legal challenges, but many conservative states are hoping to pass similar laws soon.  


Texas lawmakers attempted to pass a similar bill last year, but failed to do so because of time constraints during the last legislative session. Senate Bill 1515 would’ve required public school classrooms to “display copies of the Ten Commandments that are at least 16 inches wide and 20 inches tall, and “in a size and typeface that is legible to a person with average vision from anywhere in the classroom.” Texas Senate Democrats openly opposed the bill citing the need for separation of church and state, but many conservatives in the State Senate stated they believed that separation of church and state is a “false doctrine.” 

— Survey

Make the State Budget Work for YOU: Take The People’s Budget Survey from Every Texan 

We are proud to be part of The People’s Budget alongside our partners at Every Texan. The People’s Budget is a coordinated strategy to create a state policy roadmap that focuses on community investments that the State of Texas can make for the people of Texas. 

This strategy is bold, and it requires, above all, input from Texans across the state on how we should be investing in their communities. If it were up to you, how would Texas budget our dollars? Let us know by taking our survey. 

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Students scoring zeroes on STAAR test spike as TEA shifts to new, computer-based grading system. The Texas Education Agency attributed the spike in zeroes to a more difficult essay portion this year. But some public school leaders say the increase raises questions about the agency’s new use of an automated computer model to grade students’ STAAR essay responses. (San Antonio Express-News, June 24)  

📖 Texas Nonprofit Works with Volunteer GIS Expert to Map Broadband Need. Since the pandemic in 2020, Bastrop County Cares, a nonprofit organization, has been working to bring broadband to more individuals and families in rural Texas. Now, an unexpected volunteer (a geographic information system mapping expert) has helped one rural community in Texas establish its broadband connection. (The Daily Yonder, June 24)  

📖 A Texas Democrat voted against rights for trans kids. This queer Black mom challenged her – and won. For labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons, every battle is ‘David and Goliath.’ The state’s new class of LGBT+ lawmakers is telling the world that Texas is worth fighting for, Alex Woodward reports. (Independent, June 23)