March 12, 2021: Day of Action is Monday! Why it’s important to get vaccinated now! Plus: Legislative updates

 

Get ready for Monday: Your chance to urge our state to invest in our kids

Day of Action flier with sign and dateTexas AFT local unions and members from across the state will participate in a variety of “Day of Action” events Monday—primarily car caravans and vaccine phone banks.

School employees are using the first day of their spring break to highlight the investments needed for public education. Car caravans have been a safe and easy way to get out, honk a bit, cheer, and display your signs telling Texas to Fund Our Future!

Wherever you are, join us at 11 a.m. (Central Time) on Facebook. Texas AFT President Zeph Capo will be live from the Austin area car caravan and talking to members and leaders at similar events across the state. Head over to fb.com/TexasAFT to watch.

All events will require safety guidelines: masks and social distancing. Check here for a listing of local events and other ways you can participate from anywhere in the state. We’ll also be holding an evening phone bank calling educators to assist them in getting vaccine appointments. If you’d like to volunteer, register here.

 

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Vaccination eligibility is expanding; school employees need to act now!

colorful CDC fact sheet flierTexas is expanding vaccine availability to those 50 and over beginning Monday, and President Joe Biden announced last night that everyone in the country will be eligible on May 1. (The federal government directed states to add all day-care workers and K-12 school employees for vaccine prioritization on March 3.)

While the government and vaccine suppliers continue to ramp up production and distribution, supplies will still be limited as the eligibility pool expands. That means as educators, you need to act now to make an appointment and help meet the president’s goal of vaccinating all school employees by March 31.

The good news is that we are seeing numerous announcements from districts who have partnered with pharmacies or healthcare providers to ensure all employees are given appointments. Texas AFT has played an active role in reaching out to districts to ensure vaccination plans are in place, and we’ll continue our efforts to educate school employees with our Day of Action Vaccine Phone Bank on Monday evening. The CDC also has produced FAQs and a flier on how school employees can access vaccinations. Two starting points are the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and VaccineFinder.org.

Mask requirements lifted in many school districts, but vast majority still require them

As of today, we know of 20 Texas school districts in which school boards have voted to lift mask requirements for their campuses. More districts could be added to that list as school boards continue to meet this month. However, dozens more districts have stated that they will stick with the requirement.

Texas AFT has attempted to reach all our members in these districts by text message to ensure they are aware of the changes in rules, inquire if they have vaccinations scheduled, and provide information on how to find vaccine appointments.

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Biden signs landmark American Rescue Plan giving a huge boost to Texas families and schools

Capitol with text of Biden signs Rescue Plan
Working people and public education advocates are celebrating after President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law Thursday. This powerful piece of legislation will provide assistance to accelerate COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs and to get money to families struggling with job loss, food insecurity, and the threat of homelessness. Funds could start flowing as early as next week, and Texas is expected to get some $27 billion in direct aid.

“This plan is quite literally a lifeline for an economy that desperately needs one,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have lost more than half a million jobs in public education and more than 100,000 jobs in healthcare. This is what government looks like when it takes swift action to care for us all.”

The Rescue Plan will provide a significant amount of funding to Texas public schools to help pay for costs associated with the pandemic.

AFT members and leaders spent countless hours with a coalition of others calling voters, writing letters to the editor, and holding news conferences, events, and rallies—distanced and virtual—to elect legislators who vote to support working people, who never forget under-resourced communities, and who prioritize public education, public services, and the public good.

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Legislative Update:

 

Staring upward into the spiraling Capitol domePrivate-school vouchers
A top priority bill for House Republicans, HB 3 would address changes to manage future state emergencies like the pandemic, and it includes several provisions that could limit the governor’s powers. We’ll be watching the bill’s progress closely for anything that could impact school operations. The bill’s author, Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), agreed last week to remove controversial language forcing school districts that don’t offer full-time in-person instruction to pay for “off-campus instructional programs”—which could translate into private-school vouchers.

Charter schools
Last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a list of his 31 priority issues, which included a so-called “Charter School Equity Act.” Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed the bill for this act, SB 28, Friday, and Rep. Harold Dutton filed the companion, HB 3279, in the House. The bills would include a series of bad moves aimed at removing what little authority elected officials have over scandal-prone, privately appointed charters that receive $3.6 billion state dollars per year. These bad ideas include expanding the authority of the pro-charter commissioner of education; removing the current authority of the elected State Board of Education to veto bad charter applicants; and removing the authority of locally elected officials to gather input and make decisions based on what is best for their local community.

Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) filed a related bill, HB 1348, which would strictly limit the powers of cities and counties to apply land use and development rules to charter-schools, giving charters free reign to locate where they want without following local zoning regulations. It’s a dangerous attempt at a power grab from local governments trying to ensure local school districts are not harmed by charter-school expansion. This same bill died in the House Public Education Committee last session thanks to Texas AFT and notably has been moved to the Land and Resource Management Committee for a hearing on Tuesday. Texas AFT, along with the 21-member charter school coalition, will be opposing these bad bills again.

Bill attacking union dues deductions
Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is readying another assault on our union and other teacher groups this session with SB 1660, which attempts to silence the voices of educators by outlawing dues deductions from your district payroll (and for employees of all other city, state, and county governments).. Trying to divide and conquer, Bettencourt carved out law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMTs from those affected. Texas AFT has beaten back these dues-deduction bills the past four legislative sessions.We will keep a close eye on this latest attempt to stifle your power and your voice.

Aiming at Houston ISD
Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has introduced a bill that could pave a clear path to complete a state takeover of Houston ISD. Last year, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced that the Texas Education Agency would remove Houston’s democratically elected school board and replace it with a board of managers from TEA. The TEA takeover primarily was based on one Houston school (out of more than 200 campuses) that didn’t meet accountability standards. A Houston ISD lawsuit halted the takeover with an injunction, and the case is still in court. Dutton’s bill would clarify state statute on Morath’s powers, which were a foundation of the Houston ISD lawsuit against TEA.

House Public Education Committee
The House Public Education Committee will hold bill hearings on Tuesday. Notable bills include:

  • HB 1603 by Dan Huberty (R-Houston) would remove the expiration on the individual graduation committees. Kyle Seliger (R-Amarillo) has the companion in the Senate, SB 177.
  • HB 1114 by Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) would make it easier for schools to access resources for providing mental health services and mental health education to public school students at school-based health centers. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) has the companion in the Senate, SB 325.
  • HB 725 by Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would allow kids who previously have been in foster care in other states to be eligible for pre-K enrollment in Texas.

Broadband access
The Senate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on SB 5 to address increasing broadband internet access across the state. The pandemic has shown how important access is for students trying to work remotely.

Bill filing deadline
Friday marked the deadline for legislators to file bills. The Legislature will now concentrate on the next phases of the session, committee action on bills, and eventually, House and Senate floor debates.

 

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‘Riley’s Rule’ would let students with serious illness advance their education

Union member partners with state rep to help her son

Rep. Rosenthal and Riley in the Capitol annexRiley Schaudel, left, with Rep. Jon Rosenthal.

Riley Schaudel didn’t know he would end up advocating for a state House bill named after him.

The youngest in his family, he spent years wrestling with extremely challenging undiagnosed health issues. It was hard to keep anything straight, with Riley’s family trying to balance his regular hospital admittance with lost days of work and lost days of school.

Regardless of everything he faced, his dedication to his education didn’t fade. He worked hard, catching up on assignments from his hospital bed. His mother Wanda, a long-time teacher and campus representative for Cy-Fair AFT, ensured he kept up on all of his assignments as best he could. She wouldn’t let him fall behind. But the campus administration at his middle school, however, didn’t seem to recognize his efforts in the face of his health challenges.

See how Riley’s family and the union partnered with state Rep. Jon Rosenthal to introduce Riley’s Act, which would require school districts to excuse the absence of a student that results from a serious or life-threatening illness or related treatment.

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Good bill of the week:

 

Garnet Coleman HB 2846 Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would require a parental notification if a public school, including an open-enrollment charter school, does not have a full-time nurse. The notice should be sent by the principal no later than the 30th instructional day after the first day of school and in a bilingual format. The requirement can be fulfilled by posting it on the district’s/school’s website, but it must be easily accessible by three clicks or less. This legislation is sorely needed as many schools do not have a full-time nurse. Parents have the right to know whether their child can be taken care of at school, should they feel sick or need prompt medical attention.


Events

Documentary reveals bias in algorithms related to teacher evaluations

Coded Bias's Daniel Santos with teacher evaluation notes ghosted over him
A documentary premiering on PBS this month unfolds the story of Houston Federation of Teachers member Daniel Santos against a biased and faulty teacher evaluation system.

Coded Bias outlines how a MIT media-lab researcher discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women. Her investigation ultimately reveals widespread bias in algorithms used in business, education, and law enforcement. You can watch the film online beginning March 22 on PBS’s Independent Lens showcase.

Supporting School Personnel Town Hall


Bus driver woman in front of bus with text for eventTexas AFT members include school employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, whose contributions too often go unnoticed and whose needs too often go unaddressed. We want to support these invaluable workers and highlight their interests in our union’s legislative agenda. Texas AFT is working to make sure the voices of school employees are heard in the 87th Legislature, so we have invited Reps. Michelle Beckley and Terry Meza to join us for this important discussion on March 18 at 6 p.m. Register here.

TLEEC Town Hall Part 3: Equity
Members and friends of the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition are holding the last in a series of three community conversations about how we can work together to strengthen public education, particularly for students of color. Part 3 will focus promoting education equity in all aspects of student learning and planning. Register for the free conversation here.

Bridges Institute webinars on trauma-informed practices
The Bridges Institute for Professional Development invites you to attend our five-part webinar series on trauma-informed practices. Each session will begin at 6 p.m., and CPE credit will be issued for each session attended. The next session in the series will be Wednesday, March 24 (focus on support for grieving students), and the subsequent sessions will occur on Wednesdays throughout the rest of this month. Register for the free event here.

2021 Share My Lesson Virtual Conference
Registration is now open for AFT Share My Lesson’s ninth annual Virtual Conference on March 23 through 25. Be a part of the best online professional development event of the year for pre-K through12 teachers, school staff, and parents.

This three-day virtual conference features more than 40 free, for-credit webinars on issues that are top of mind for supporting students, including learning recovery, social and emotional recovery, civic engagement, cross-curricular instructional strategies, and trauma-sensitive practices. Register for free here.


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