June 5, 2020: Leaders join in mourning George Floyd, call for action; Farewell to union legend in San Antonio; Money grab by Betsy DeVos for private schools

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Our members mourn death of George Floyd, commit to social justice

George Floyd Mural

Xena Goldman Photo, Mural by Xena Goldman, Greta McLain, and Cadex Herrera

AFT is made up of educators, healthcare workers, public employees, and more. We do not just serve the communities across Texas, but we are members and leaders in those communities. On May 25, 2020, we lost a member of our community. George Floyd, an HISD graduate from Yates High School class of 1993, died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Texas AFT is committed to issues of social justice and equality, so whenever an unarmed black person is needlessly killed, we as an organization are saddened but moved to action. But we are deeply saddened by the truly heinous nature of this particular murder of our community member. Many teachers marched across downtown Houston with George Floyd’s family this weekend and attended many other protests and acts of solidarity across the state.

Several union members and education leaders attended protests this past week including Aldine AFT president Candis Houston, Babak Far and Bryan Lozano from HFT, Alpa Sridharan and Tarah Taylor from Community Voices for Public Education, Hany Khalil from the AFL-CIO, along with many, many others. You can read statements from some of our union leaders here.

Fear and bigotry flourish in the fertile soil of ignorance. Education is vital to combating institutionalized racism and white supremacy in this country. As educators and community leaders, we can actively dismantle racist systems by teaching our students the value of all human life during their formative years. Below is a set of links compiled by Education Minnesota, an AFT affiliate, on how to actively teach equality in the classroom and confront issues of social justice. To visit their website and see what further actions you can take online, click here.

Anti-racism resources:
5 anti-racism resources for teachers: https://edmn.me/36EHUvs
More anti-racism resources: https://edmn.me/2AlbDxa\
5 ways to address bias in your school: https://edmn.me/36FaE7u
Share My Lesson racism collection:https://edmn.me/3ccMjqs
Ibram X. Kendi blog: https://www.ibramxkendi.com
Racial Justice in Education resource guide:https://edmn.me/2zDzSa5
Teaching Tolerance: www.tolerance.org
Talking about race in the classroom:https://edmn.me/3det6pY
Confronting White Nationalism in Schools toolkit:https://edmn.me/3gCQrDV
Equity & social justice websites: https://edmn.me/2TO5bWC


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San Antonio union legend stepping out of president’s role after steering the Alliance for more than three decades

Shelley Potter and Tom CumminsShelley Potter and Tom Cummins

Goodbyes to our union leaders are always tough, but we have a feeling that this will be more of a “see you around” farewell to Shelley Potter, who is leaving her post as the president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel after more than 35 years in union leadership. Elected to replace her is Alejandra Lopez, and we send her a warm welcome.

If there’s one thing Shelley learned early on, it’s the importance of keeping cool. After years of teaching at a San Antonio elementary school, she cut her teeth on union advocacy by spearheading a drive to air-condition a large number of campuses still without cooling, which left the students and staff weary and inattentive battling the sweltering heat. Shelley herself had to keep cool and steer a straight and unwavering course for her members during union mergers, roller coaster relationships with superintendents and school boards, and a recent all-out invasion by charter-school chains. In short, she never gave up when facing a defeat, and she used the fire in her belly to bounce back and find new victories.

Her husband of more than three decades, Tom Cummins, is president of the Bexar County Federation of Teachers, and together they became a foundation of experienced leadership for Texas AFT and helped mentor numerous local presidents across the state. Shelley also had a unique position of leading a merged local, which means that the union is affiliated with both Texas AFT/AFT and TSTA/NEA. Although a balancing act, it also meant having a tremendous source of support and resources to draw from and she used them well.

Shelley was also known for equipping her staff and leaders to support the entire school team—the custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, food service workers, and more. If we ever needed an example of successful advocacy for those members, we always called San Antonio to check on its latest campaign.

To be completely accurate, Potter is leaving because of term limits established by the union years ago. Her mentioning this often is a clear signal that she’s not quitting anything. It’s sure she’ll take the fight for school employees and other workers to a new level in another endeavor. Shelley was always an active participant in the broader labor movement outside of public education. There’s a big union family that will miss her dearly, at least in the role of Alliance president. Shelley, we’ll see you around for the next fight, and the next celebration.

We could go on forever on just how remarkable Shelley is and her numerous achievements, but best now to leave it to her remarks and some great profiles published recently.

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AFT objects to Betsy DeVos formula on CARES Act funding sent to private schools

Texas private schools could receive millions of more dollars regardless of how many low-income students they are serving

Betsy DeVosThe American Federation of Teachers this week joined 48 other public education advocacy groups to object to a significant error in the way U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to apportion federal aid to schools during the pandemic.

AFT and the groups sent a letter detailing the objections—all based on law and precedent—to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ plan that could give private schools significantly more money from the CARES Act, which totalled more than $16 billion to all states to support schools. The issue at hand is what’s called “equitable services,” a longstanding provision of federal law that mandates public schools to provide services—everything from tutoring and transportation to special education services and teacher professional development—to private-school students. The formula for those equitable services primarily is based on the number of low-income students residing in the district’s boundaries, akin to how Title I funding is distributed. Instead, DeVos is basing the funding on the total number of all students overall, which would dramatically increase the share that private schools receive.

As the groups stated in the letter: “To be clear, we strongly supported the CARES Act with equitable services provisions included and believe that eligible students in non-public schools should receive additional support through the CARES Act. What we don’t believe is that all students, at any non-public school, regardless of their family’s wealth or the size of their school’s endowment, should generate funding help in the same way as disadvantaged students, particularly when that aid comes at the cost of those less advantaged children.”

As NPR reported, “In Louisiana, under the low-income student formula, the state Department of Education reports private school students would receive services worth $8.6 million of the state’s CARES Act relief money. Under the [Betsy DeVos’] broader interpretation, that share would jump to $31.5 million — a 267% increase.”

The CARES Act relief funding for schools was intended to support vulnerable, low-income students, and yes, that includes those at private schools. Unfortunately, if the current guidance from the U.S. Education Department stands, Betsy DeVos will have succeeded in promoting one pillar of her ongoing agenda to transfer public money to private schools, while also robbing public schools of their fair share.


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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.