March 15, 2024: “Why is Texas like this now?”

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

Friday, March 15, 2024

What’s Dunn Can Still Be Undone 

We get asked one question quite regularly by teachers, counselors, nurses, bus drivers, librarians and more: “Why is Texas like this now? Why isn’t anyone in charge listening to us.”  

Texas Monthly’s March edition has the answer in the form of an in-depth profile of a West Texas billionaire whose name you may (or may not) recognize. As Russell Gold writes:  

“You may not think about Tim Dunn. Indeed, unless you’re a close observer of Texas politics, it’s likely you haven’t heard of him. But Dunn thinks a lot about you. 

For two decades he has been quietly, methodically, and patiently building a political machine that has pushed Texas forcefully to the right, sending more and more members of the centrist wing of the Republican Party into exile. A 68-year-old oil billionaire, Dunn seeks to transform Texas into something resembling a theocracy. If you ever wonder why state laws and policies are more radical than most Texans would prefer, the answer has a lot to do with Dunn and his checkbook. If you question why Texas’s elected officials no longer represent the majority of Texans’ views, the reason can be traced to the tactics employed by Dunn and the many organizations and politicians he funds and influences.” 

One man’s wealthy crusade to remake the state in his own image — that is what’s standing in the way of a state that lives up to its potential and keeps its promises to the 5 million students in its public schools.  

What can we do against such powerful forces? We educate. We advocate. We organize.  

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • Socorro ISD’s Board of Trustees surprised everyone by requesting a Texas Education Agency conservator. What does it mean?  
  • We recap President Biden’s State of the Union address, with all its AFT, Texas, and organized labor connections.  
  • A new report from the ACLU Texas shows that more than half of Texas public schools have dress code policies that shame and penalize students for showing up as their authentic selves. 
  • Is Texas putting TRS pensions at risk with its crusade against renewable energy investments? Find out with the Texas Climate Jobs Project.  

— Event

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Educating Texas: All Organizing Is Local

Tuesday, March 19 

6 p.m. CT 

Texas has the eighth-largest economy in the world and a $32.7 billion budget surplus, but our schools are starved for resources. How did this happen? What can we do to fix it? Can it be fixed? 

Head back to school with Texas AFT for a brush-up on your civics education. In this bimonthly Zoom series, we’re walking through who holds the power in this state, what they’re doing with it, and what we need to build thriving public schools — and a thriving Lone Star State democracy. 

Our next session is this Tuesday, March 19. Although national and statewide issues get a lot of airtime, all movements for change start at the local level. We’ll talk this Tuesday to groups doing impactful work RIGHT NOW in districts across the state. Sign up for this and all other sessions on our Mobilize page. 

Missed our previous sessions? Watch the recordings on our YouTube page. 

— Texas Education Agency

Socorro ISD Requests TEA Conservatorship: State Intervention and the Threat to Our Public Schools 

The public education community in Socorro ISD (SISD) was shocked last week to learn that following a closed-door session, the school district’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday to request that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) appoint one or more conservators to oversee the district’s operations. 


Why did the SISD Board of Trustees make this drastic decision? While the board has not been fully transparent with the community regarding the reasons for this move, TEA has since confirmed that SISD accepted a proposed agreement from the agency to settle eight ongoing special investigations of the district by the appointment of one or more conservators by Commissioner Mike Morath, and the release of a final report into the investigations. 


In fact, the agenda item at Tuesday’s school board meeting that concluded with the acceptance of TEA’s proposed agreement listed case numbers for eight distinct special investigations of the district between 2020 and 2023. Though SISD has provided no details regarding the investigations and urged people to wait for the final report to be released to learn more, the district has previously acknowledged the opening of an investigation in 2020 into whether a small number of students were allowed to graduate without meeting certain state requirements. 


The final report is expected to include details about the eight investigations and their findings. TEA intends on publishing this report at the end of the month and making it available to the public. 

— State of the Union

Biden Fires off Most Worker-Centric, Education-Focused State of the Union Speech in Memory 

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden addressed Congress and the nation in his third official State of the Union address. The president broached a diverse set of topics, including the economy, international affairs, women’s reproductive rights, and immigration. The speech included several significant remarks supporting workers generally and educators specifically. 

Texas unions were well represented at this historic event, with Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy in attendance as a special guest of Rep. Greg Casar (D-Austin) and Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson in attendance as a special guest of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston). This was the first time that a State of the Union was witnessed in person by an officer of the Texas AFL-CIO. Levy and Anderson were joined in the audience by AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler, who was invited by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin). 

— Event

Pensions at Risk: Join Texas Climate Jobs Project, Texas AFT for Webinar on Threats to Texas Public Employees’ Retirement 

Laws have been enacted in Texas that may be putting the futures of our public sector workers and retirees at risk. These laws dictate how public pension funds can be invested or divested without considering the performance of the investments. State lawmakers have tried to limit the ability of Texas public pension funds to invest in clean energy projects — even if it’s in the financial interest of the fund. 

Workers and retirees deserve a voice in the decisions that will affect their pensions. By standing together, public sector workers can call on lawmakers to ensure they have the freedom they need to ensure their pensions are being invested responsibly and without jeopardizing future earnings. 

Texas politicians should not gamble with retirees’ future. 


Learn from experts and retirees about the connection between climate and pensions, and how Texas laws are affecting the pensions of public employees in Texas at a free webinar at 6 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 26. You can register online now. 

— Event

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March 19-21: Earn PD Credit at Share My Lesson for Virtual Conference 

Mark your calendars for March 19-21 and join us live for the 2024 Share My Lesson Virtual Conference. This three-day conference features over 35 free, for-credit sessions tailored to support educators and stakeholders at every level of the education system. These sessions are designed for preK-12 classroom teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, school-related personnel, specialized instructional support personnel, higher education faculty, and parents and caregivers. There is truly something for everyone.   

One of the main draws of the conference is the lineup of keynote speakers:  



In addition to these headline events, the conference will cover a range of topics vital to educators in Texas, including diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and artificial intelligence training tailored to address the unique challenges faced by schools in our state.\ Whether you’re seeking professional development (PD) credit or simply looking to expand your knowledge and skills, Share My Lesson’s virtual conference promises to deliver valuable insights and resources to support your journey in education. 


Don’t miss out on this unparalleled opportunity to connect, learn, and grow. Register now and secure your spot at the Share My Lesson Virtual Conference.  


Bonus: By simply registering for the conference, you will be automatically entered for a chance to win one of 20 Stanley Tumblers. Enter here and learn how you can increase your chances of winning with bonus actions.   

— Professional Development

Bridges Institute logo.

Professional development you choose. Subscribe to our new PD newsletter.  

Texas AFT’s Bridges Institute for Professional Development has launched a new monthly newsletter, bringing you updates you need to know on a wide range of topics:  

  • Opportunities for professional development 
  • Strategies and best practices for K-12 and higher education employees 
  • News about the education profession 

Get these important updates and more in your inbox the first Wednesday of each month! 

— Discrimination

New Report Highlights How Dress Codes Discriminate Against Texas Students 

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU Texas) released the Dressed to Express Report to highlight the role that dress codes have played in discrimination in Texas public schools. The data, collected from over 1,100 Texas public schools, “provides insight into the prevalence of inequitable dress and grooming codes across Texas schools, their negative impacts on students, and recommendations for creating more inclusive policies.”

Some revealing data during the 2022-23 school year shows that: 

  • 53% of surveyed districts force students to follow dress codes rooted in outdated gender norms and stereotypes, including boys-only hair length rules and other rules that only apply to girls
  • Over 7% of 2022-2023 dress codes ban race-based hair textures and styles, which are now explicitly protected by the CROWN Act for the 2023-2024 school year, 
  • More than 80% of surveyed districts prohibit head-coverings, many without naming religious and cultural exemptions, further alienating students of certain religious and cultural backgrounds and putting the responsibility on their guardians to petition districts for permission. 

Image reads: Donors Choose Funding Sweepstakes.

Enter your DonorsChoose project in our DonorsChoose Funding Sweepstakes before April 11 for a chance to have it fully funded! 

Longtime corporate supporter, Horace Mann, is drawing winners and funding up to $1,000 in DonorsChoose projects every Thursday through April 11. 

Don’t miss out – enter your DonorsChoose project today! 

DonorsChoose is not an affiliate of Horace Mann. 

No purchase necessary to enter or win. Must be at least 18 years of age to enter. Not valid in Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Washington and West Virginia and where otherwise prohibited by law. Visit for Official Rules.  

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 for more information. 

EMX-00166 (Feb. 24) 

— Survey

Immunization partnership logo.

Take the survey: What are your thoughts on Texas immunization policy? 

The Immunization Partnership (TIP), a non-profit dedicated to increasing immunization rates to create healthier communities, has launched a survey to gather information from a range of stakeholders – including public school educators – whose work involves immunizations.   


Survey findings will help TIP identify and prioritize policy issues on which to focus as the organization works to improve a climate that supports increased immunization rates in Texas. The survey is anonymous and takes approximately 5 minutes to complete. 

Recommended Reading

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

📖  Abbott’s Super Tuesday triumph in voucher battle is no win for Texas (Editorial). Our own Captain Ahab, otherwise known as Gov. Greg Abbott, managed to plunge his harpoon into the belly of the great whale last week. After Super Tuesday, our public-school leviathan lists but is not dead yet. (Houston Chronicle, March 10)  

📖 UTA gives full-tuition scholarships to future special education teachers. To battle shortages and support future teachers, the University of Texas at Arlington received $1.25 million in federal funds to help students pursuing degrees in special education. The five-year grant will fund six students per year and cover 100% of in-state tuition, fees and other costs, such as textbooks, housing and childcare needs. (Dallas Morning News, March 8)  

📖 Column: Without Confidentiality, How Can a Teacher Retention Survey Be Worth Much of Anything? Last week, when a jubilant Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles unveiled the results of a teacher survey, he said “the numbers clearly show” that teachers are committed to team HISD and its ongoing transformation. Actually, no they don’t. Actually, that’s not true. (Houston Press, March 11)