June 7, 2024: Defending Public Education

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

Friday, June 7, 2024

Vouchers Drain Public School Funding

This week, The Washington Post released a comprehensive report detailing the detrimental effects of vouchers on public schools. These vouchers, by channeling funds away from public schools and toward religious institutions, not only blur the line between church and state but also lead to significant underfunding of public schools in states where universal vouchers are in effect.

As vouchers become institutionalized in a set of states with a Republican trifecta (like Texas), we’re already starting to see the effects of the policy, which mainly serves wealthy families who were already sending their kids to private schools, mainly religious private schools.

As AFT President Randi Weingarten said on Facebook, X/Twitter, and Threads: “This effort is part of a broader strategy to defund public schools, diverting resources to religious institutions and undermining the separation of church and state. Research shows that the academic impact of vouchers is disastrous, with outcomes worse than those of natural disasters.” 

Those are the outcomes Gov. Greg Abbott has poured millions of dollars into winning. Those are the outcomes he has held public school funding hostage for. Don’t let him tell you otherwise.  

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • In honor of Wear Orange Weekend, we share an article on gun violence from our most recent report, Thrive Together.  
  • Across the state, our members are working together to draft an Educator’s Bill of Rights for the 89th Legislature.  
  • Do you know someone working toward U.S. citizenship? Flag for them the upcoming free citizenship clinic hosted by our labor community in Houston.  
  • Classroom teachers: What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence in education? Tell us with a quick survey.  

— Gun Violence

Image reads: school districts like mine are slashing budgets, jobs and it's governor abbot's fault.

Thriving public schools are safe public schools, with educators and students focused on learning instead of surviving a shooting. Read more on common-sense solutions to prevent gun violence in our latest report, Thrive Together. 

Building a Safer Future: Creating Schools and Communities Where All Students Can Thrive 

As we observe Wear Orange Weekend from June 7-9 and Gun Violence Awareness Month, it’s crucial to recognize the essential role that educators play in creating safer schools and communities.  


On Jan. 21, 2013, Hadiya Pendleton marched in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade. One week later, 15-year-old Hadiya was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago. Soon after this tragedy, Hadiya’s friends commemorated her life by wearing orange, the color hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others. 


Wear Orange is committed to creating a safer future for all by participating in educational initiatives, promoting responsible gun ownership, and supporting policy change to prevent gun violence. Wear Orange Weekend is now observed every June, with thousands wearing orange to honor Hadiya and the more than 40,000 Americans killed and 76,000 wounded by gun violence each year in the United States. The first Friday in June is also considered National Gun Violence Awareness Day. 


As educators and school employees, Texas AFT members are all too familiar with the devastating impact of gun violence in their own communities, from the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde to countless other incidents that don’t make national headlines but leave lasting scars. 


Providing a safe learning environment for students and educators is a fundamental responsibility of our schools. However, the threat of gun violence on campuses has become an increasingly urgent concern, particularly after the devastating shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers in May 2022.  


“Every day, Texans entrust their children to our schools,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo on the two-year anniversary of the Uvalde shooting. “They’re supposed to be learning, growing, and unleashing their potential. But instead, they face the trauma of active shooter drills and the very real fear of becoming the next victim of a school shooting. It’s time for our leaders to stop playing the blame game and prioritize the safety of our children and educators over politics.” 

— Advocacy

Photos from Educator’s Bill of Rights Drafting sessions with Education Round Rock (left) and Corpus Christi AFT (right). 

Texas AFT Members Are Building a True Educator’s Bill of Rights 

By now, you probably already know the story, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves: Last year, the state of Texas had a $33 billion budget surplus – not a dime of that went to increasing public education funding. Over a 140-day regular session and four 30-day special sessions, the governor and his allies in the Legislature held public education funding hostage in order to unsuccessfully push his voucher schemes, which would further defund public education.  


Educators are feeling the effects of this funding stagnation: According to recent analysis by Texas AFT, the average Texas teacher salary has declined by over 9% since the 2009-2010 school year. Amid this existential crisis in public education, Gov. Greg Abbott, the supposed leader of this state, is pointing fingers at everyone but himself. 


Last legislative session, this state’s educators stopped their governor’s voucher plan; next legislative session, we fight for and win the schools that students and educators deserve. That fight starts with offering real, forward-looking solutions to the issues plaguing public education. Solutions that the leaders of this state have failed to provide. Solutions that will allow for public schools to thrive. 


That’s why Texas AFT’s legislative agenda for the 2025 legislative session will fall under the umbrella of an “Educator’s Bill of Rights,” and it will be based entirely on feedback from K-12 and higher education employees.  

— Pride Month

Happy Pride Month! This June, and every month, we stand ready to celebrate the achievements and defend the rights of our Texas LGBTQIA+ community. Because the only way we’re going to thrive is to #ThriveTogether. Pick up a special union-printed Texas AFT Pride hat from store.texasaft.org. Every purchase from our online store acts as a donation to Texas AFT COPE, our union’s political fund. 

— Survey 

AI Technology in Education: Share Your Thoughts & Win a Gift Card! 

The headlines we’ve seen in recent months about artificial intelligence (AI) can be anxiety-inducing. 


Texas AFT members have reported concerns about students using tools like ChatGPT to skirt assignments, while the Texas Education Agency has begun using computers to grade students’ written answers on this year’s STAAR. However, this emerging technology can also be exhilarating for those looking for new ways to engage students in learning or take tedious, repetitive tasks off their plates. 


Meanwhile, the Texas House of Representatives has established an Artificial Intelligence & Emerging Technologies subcommittee for this interim period between legislative sessions. The subcommittee’s stated purpose: “to determine the ways AI is integrated into our everyday lives and the potential security risks that come along with the emerging technology.”  

For this and many other reasons, Texas AFT wants to be prepared to speak on issues of AI in public education and provide resources, training, and advice for our members. To do so, we need to hear from you on how you feel about generative AI technology (tools like Microsoft Copilot, ChatGPT, or MagicSchool.ai that enable you to quickly generate new content) and how you may already be using it. 


We encourage all Texas AFT members to take our brief survey, which we expect will take 10 minutes or less to complete. Out of respect for your valuable time, everyone who completes the survey will be entered to win one of eight $25 gift cards to the First Book Marketplace. 


Click here to take the survey.Your input is essential as we navigate the rapidly evolving landscape of AI in education. 

— Event

Click to download English- and Spanish-language fliers for the upcoming Citizenship Clinic & Community Fair in Houston. 

Save the Date: Free Citizenship Clinic for Permanent Residents in Houston Area on July 21 

The AFT national union, Texas AFT, and its local unions in Harris County are joining our extended labor family to offer a free citizenship clinic in Houston this summer to support lawful permanent residents who wish to apply for U.S. citizenship.  


The pathway to citizenship can be confusing and difficult. With our partners at the Texas AFL-CIO and many community organizations, we want to help aspiring citizens navigate the process. These free citizenship clinics provide valuable information and help applicants: 

  • Fill out the N-400 Citizenship Application 
  • Individual citizenship consultation with immigration lawyers 
  • Study materials for citizenship exam

To attend the July 21 citizenship clinic, you must attend one of two remaining pre-screening events on June 14 and June 15. Pre-screenings ensure that you’re eligible to apply for citizenship and that you have met all your requirements. 

— Event

Is your retirement account ready for every day being a Saturday? 

Hey there, future retiree (or maybe you’re already there, living the dream in your pajamas – we won’t judge!), let’s face it: retirement planning can be about as exciting as watching paint dry. But fear not! Long-time corporate supporter, Horace Mann is here to inject a little fun and a lot of knowledge into your journey with Horace Mann’s Retirement Income Distribution webinar. 

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Learn: Horace Mann will decipher all that confusing jargon and turn it into actionable steps for a secure retirement. 
  • Reflect: When do you want to retire? What do you want to do in retirement?
  • Get your questions answered: How do you know if you have enough money saved? How long will it last? 

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only, and should not be considered a recommendation, investment, tax or legal advice. Representatives of HMII provide general information concerning retirement income planning only. HMII and its representatives do not provide financial planning services. Horace Mann Service Corporation and certain of its affiliates (Horace Mann) enter into agreements with educational associations where Horace Mann pays the association to familiarize association members with the Horace Mann brand, products or services. Contact association.relations@horacemann.com for more information. 


EMR-00788 (Apr. 24) 

Recommended Reading

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

Texas per-student funding has decreased under Gov. Greg Abbott, new TEA report shows. Newly released data from the Texas Education Agency shows inflation-adjusted per-student funding for the state’s public schools has decreased since 2014, belying Gov. Greg Abbott’s common refrain that he has boosted school funds as the state’s chief executive. (San Antonio Express-News, June 4)  


Op-Ed: Texas Has a Trove of Money but Districts Like CFISD Are Left to Struggle. Odus Evbagharu, a Cy-Fair ISD graduate and former chief of staff to state Rep. Jon Rosenthal writes, “It’s unconscionable Texas currently sits on a surplus of billions of dollars, yet our public schools are left scrambling, struggling to survive. There is no excuse for the dire financial straits facing districts like CFISD, with an unspent budget of $5 billion allocated for public schools and a projected surplus set to grow even further.(Houston Press, June 4)  

How Do Vouchers Defund Public Schools? Four Warnings and One Big Takeaway. Although American voters have some broad complaints about public schools in general, they are deeply supportive of their own public school communities. Which means that passing vouchers, even in conservative parts of the country, requires downplaying the extent to which vouchers threaten public school funding. (Albert Shanker Institute, May 15)