March 17, 2023: Fully Funded Public Schools or Vouchers. Not Both.
Publish Date: March 18, 2023 12:38 pm Author: Texas AFT
Friday, March 17, 2023
Respect Public Schools. Reject School Vouchers.
Socorro AFT members wave signs in support of public education and against school vouchers at a rally outside the Texas AFL-CIO on Monday. Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios.
“When I say ‘respect,’ you say ‘us,’” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, from a stage outside of the Texas AFL-CIO on Monday.
The crowd of several hundred Texas school employees responded enthusiastically in union, as they did when Capo made a second request: “When I say ‘reject,’ you say ‘vouchers.’”
The call-and-response at the afternoon rally summed up the theme for our union’s Public Education Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol; not only are we demanding increased state funding for public schools — and public school employee raises — but we are actively fighting against several bills that would endanger that funding through private school vouchers.
The Texas Education Agency has announced its plan to oust the democratically elected school board of Houston ISD, the eighth-largest school district in the nation.
What does a “fully funded” public school mean? We have an answer in our latest report with Every Texan.
A mix of good and bad happening in Texas House and Senate committees, including a discussion of WEP & GPO repeal, along with a slew of voucher bills being heard next week.
For Women’s History Month, we highlight two unsung heroes from the 1919 El Paso Laundry Strike and one exceptional teacher in Socorro ISD.
— Texas Education Agency
TEA Seizes Control of B-Rated Houston ISD
Educators, parents, elected officials, and community members protest the impending takeover of Houston ISD by the Texas Education Agency in February.
After a years-long quest, the Texas Education Agency has announced it intends to take control of Houston ISD, a district with a B rating from TEA itself, on June 1.
While Houston ISD’s current superintendent and democratically elected school board will remain in place for the rest of the semester, TEA will replace them after June 1 with an outside, appointed board of managers.
How long that board of managers remains in place — and, in fact, how it operates — is at the discretion of Education Commissioner Mike Morath, an appointed official himself.
The Houston Federation of Teachers and Houston Educational Support Personnel, the two AFT unions in HISD, held a press conference Wednesday afternoon denouncing the takeover alongside parents, students, community leaders, and congressional representatives.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a hostile takeover. The state did this without any transparency or making any effort to get input from Houston parents, educators or other community members,” said Jackie Anderson, HFT president.. “Educators, parents and the community remain resolutely opposed to this state-sponsored power grab to take over the Houston public schools.”
House Appropriations Committee Targets Diversity in Higher Education, Pensions Committee Considers Calling to Repeal WEP & GPO
Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) lays out House Concurrent Resolution 20, which calls on the U.S. Congress to repeal the WEP and GPO
This past week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to accept certain budget riders that would amend the house version of the state budget, House Bill 1. HB 1 is a general framework, but the specifics of the budget are largely determined by budget riders. Riders direct how the funding in the budget should or should be spent.
The Appropriations Committee voted to approve hundreds of budget riders, which will be considered on the House floor when HB 1 is brought up for debate, but one specific budget rider related to higher education sparked passionate debate among the committee members.
Rider No. 186, by Rep. Carrie Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), would prohibit diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) “practices or similar programs” in higher education and state agencies.
Because the Legislature is promoting anti-DEI legislation, Texas universities are already experiencing difficulty retaining and recruiting faculty to the state.
Despite emotional and personal testimony from Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, Barbara Gervin Hawkins, Mary Gonzalez, Armando Walle, the motion to strike this rider failed. The rider will now go to the whole House for consideration.
Pensions, Investments, & Financial Services
This week, the Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee convened to consider HCR 20, which would call on the U.S. Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). These provisions reduce the Social Security benefits of public employees who do not pay into Social Security. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) estimates that 95% of Texas teachers do not pay into Social Security.
Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) authored HCR 20 and has authored previous resolutions calling on Congress to repeal WEP and GPO. During the last Congress, legislation to repeal the WEP and GPO gained significant support, but ultimately did not move out of committee.
Because the WEP and GPO are federal provisions, their repeal requires action by the U.S. Congress, not the Texas Legislature. A resolution in the Texas Legislature calling for the repeal of the WEP and GPO would not repeal these provisions, but it would send a strong signal to Congress.
The Good Bills (TRS COLA) & Bad Bills (Vouchers & Book-Banning) of the Week
State funding for public education is under siege on several fronts. The specter of school privatization threatens the foundations of our public schools — along with the raises our school staff so desperately need. Illustration by Sierra Wiggers.
Senate Education Committee on March 22
The Senate Education Committee will discuss plans to send public taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition next Wednesday, March 22 at 9 a.m. The committee hearing agenda for Wednesday includes five different pieces of voucher legislation, all of which would harm public schools.
Texas AFT encourages members of the public, especially educators and parents, to testify against these proposals at the State Capitol. The hearing will take place in room E1.028.
In addition to these school voucher bills that will be heard in the Senate Education Committee, the House Public Education Committee will hear a couple of bad bills of its own on Tuesday, March 21 at 8 a.m. That hearing will take place in room E2.036.
The two bad bills that will be discussed in that committee are:
HB 900 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would require private book vendors to unilaterally set ratings for school books in order to censor certain materials in public school libraries. A state commission would adopt standards for rating “sexually explicit material,” but third-party book vendors would actually rate the individual library materials.
HB 1605 by Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) is the omnibus curriculum bill that would incentivize TEA-developed curriculum materials for foundation area teachers. It would also amend laws concerning a parent’s access to curriculum materials and the ability to request a review of materials by a board of trustees. If enacted, TEA could directly purchase instructional materials for use by the state and would incentivize districts to adopt and use these materials. It would also radically alter the instructional materials review process and transfer much of that authority to the commissioner rather than the elected State Board of Education. As is often the case with large bills, there are some aspects of the bill worth supporting, but overall the bill places undue burdens on districts and too much power on the TEA and commissioner.
The Texas House allows Texans to submit public comments on bills through an online portal. We need your voices! Sign up through our link, and we will send you instructions on how to submit comments and more information on bills.
House & Senate Committees to Hear TRS COLA Bills March 22
Fortunately, not all the bills that are being considered in committees next week are bad. Next Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committees will hear the respective chambers’ priority legislation for a Teacher Retirement Service of Texas (TRS) cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
While a COLA is desperately needed, both the Senate and House plans could be improved. When adjusted for inflation, the average TRS monthly annuity today is about 13.4% less than it was 10 years ago. Yet under both plans the maximum percentage COLA a retiree could receive is 6%. Read more about the bills on our website.
March is Women’s History Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the achievements, brilliance, and legacies of the women who transformed society and paved the road for the struggle for equality that continues today.
Each week of Women’s History Month, Texas AFT will highlight a Texan woman from our communities and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated by our local leaders.
We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world.
For more ways to bring Women’s History Month into the classroom, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.
On the first day of school every year, Veronica Ruiz, a history teacher at Puentes Middle School in Socorro ISD, asks her eighth-graders one simple question: “Are you ready to be the best in the district?”
Ruiz loves her students and does just about everything to ignite their love of learning, from skits to pneumonic devices to singing and dancing. But she also takes pride in the rigor and challenge of her class.
“When students find out they are going to have me as their eighth-grade history teacher, they aren’t initially up for the hard work this class takes,” she says, “but once they get to know me and see that I really care about them and their learning, they love the class.”
Nominated by Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT
Isabel & Manuela Hernández
In October 1919, less than a year before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, a group of El Paso women took a stand for their own rights as workers. The 1919 El Paso Laundry Strike was sparked by the efforts of Mexican and Mexican-American women to organize their workplace, Acme Laundry.
Isabel and Manuela Hernández, along with several other female co-workers, had just established a local chapter of International Laundry Workers’ Union (ILWU) at Acme. In retaliation, they were fired.
After management refused to rehire the women and raise wages for all workers, 200 female employees went on strike. That strike soon grew to 600 as other female laundry workers and laundry wagon drivers joined in solidarity.
Nominated by Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT
Bloom your classroom with Horace Mann’s $10,000 DonorsChoose giveaway! Enter your DonorsChoose project from March 6 – April 7 for your chance to win. Every day from April 3 – 7, Horace Mann will draw winners and fund at least $2,000 in DonorsChoose projects! Enter online.
Texas education news from around the state that’s worth your time
📖What’s at stake in the Texas school voucher debate. There are three terms coming up over and over again this legislative session: school choice, school vouchers and education savings accounts. They’re all related to the goal of giving families state money to send their kids to nonpublic schools. (KUT, March 15)
📖Public schools are a Texas treasure. Texas public schools are incredibly valuable and are far more effective than they are given credit for, writes David Stasney, a member of the Bryan ISD school board. Yet they are currently in a worsening crisis largely because teachers and administrators have not received the compensation and support they need to meet the ever-increasing demands placed upon them. (The Eagle, March 15)
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