March 24, 2023: Voucher Marathon Week in the Lege

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

Friday, March 24, 2023

Image Reads: If T-E-A can't run a meeting, how can it run H-I-S-D?

Expectations vs. Reality

This week in Texas education news has been a real study in the difference between expectations and cold hard reality — and not just at the Capitol. 


In Houston, the Texas Education Agency hosted its first community meetings after its announced takeover of Houston ISD. Things didn’t go as TEA planned. 


At the first meeting, parents, employees, and community members became agitated when valid questions went unanswered by TEA. Discussion of the board of managers selection process was soon drowned out by chants of “Where is Mike Morath?”


As the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board notes, TEA, seeking to run the eighth-largest school district in the country, has not displayed, so far, much skill at classroom management. 


At the second meeting, attendees came prepared to make themselves heard — by any means necessary.


Perhaps these were not the “empowered parents” Gov. Greg Abbott has been seeking on his voucher barnstorming tour of private schools. Though those parents also did not turn out in droves Tuesday for a much-heralded rally at the Capitol either.  


Police estimated the crowd to be under 200 for a rally for which the governor had offered attendees’ travel costs. Notably, that number is fewer than the 264 Texans who signed up to testify against a bevy of voucher bills being heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. And, of course, it is less than half the turnout for our own Public Education Advocacy Day on March 13. 

A new poll released this week by the Texas Association of School Boards found that the more Texans learn about voucher programs, the less likely they are to support them. State leaders could learn a thing or two about adjusting their expectations when confronted with facts. 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • Both the House Public Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee heard a wide variety of bad bills in a marathon week for the Texas Legislature. 
  • Indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued a very unsurprising opinion about the constitutionality of school voucher programs. 
  • The Legislature continues its assault on LGBTQIA+ Texans with several harmful, discriminatory bills. 
  • As community meetings continue, TEA’s takeover of Houston ISD may be a case of the dog who caught the car. 
  • We complete our deep dive into the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force, looking at its recommendations on training and support. 
  • You can now vote for one of our own to sit on the TRS Board of Trustees!

— Texas Legislature

This Week At the Legislature: Committees Consider Vouchers, Book Bans, TRS COLA, and more

Zeph Capo sits at the testimony table in the Education Committee meeting, speaking into the microphone.

This week, committees of the Texas Legislature considered bills that had dramatic implications for public education, higher education, and retired educators. 


Public Education: Senate Considers Vouchers & Teacher Working Conditions, House Considers Book Bans, Curriculum Regulation, and School Funding

This week, the Senate Education Committee took up several bills that would defund public education by diverting funds to private voucher schemes. Each of these bills is unique (and Texas AFT provided brief summaries of each bill in last week’s hotline), but all of the proposals would defund public education in Texas.


The committee received testimony past midnight, with the vast majority of witnesses – a ratio of 4 to 1 – registering to testify against vouchers. 


Among the many witnesses testifying against vouchers was Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. In his testimony, Capo expressed the worry felt by public educators across Texas: that private school voucher programs will defund Texas’ public schools. Zeph’s testimony focused on the importance of protecting career and technical education (CTE) programs in public schools. Those programs are critical to meet our state’s workforce needs, and those programs do not exist in private schools.


Zeph laid out his position simply: “We can either have fully funded public schools or vouchers, but not both.”


Also among the witnesses testifying against vouchers was Texas AFT member Rebekah Ozuna. Ozuna is an Education Austin member working as a grant specialist, but taught over eight years in San Antonio ISD as a member of the San Antonio Alliance. Ozuna’s testimony focused on the staffing issues which could occur if the state diverts funds from public education to private education.

Read more about additional education bills considered on our website.

Higher Education: Legislature Considers Academic Freedom and Community College Funding


This Thursday, the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education took up SB 16 – which targets academic freedom. SB 16 is one of the many bills that the Texas American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have been organizing against. AAUP is a nationwide association of higher education employees affiliated with AFT. Texas AAUP and Texas AFT have been fighting against these attacks on higher education with our letter campaign, encouraging legislators to defend higher education in Texas from these attacks.


On its surface, the language of SB 16 seems innocuous, prohibiting faculty from “compelling” certain beliefs. The true intention is to target educator freedom. Bills similar to SB 16 have been promoted by groups targeting academic freedom. Vague terms such as “compelling” are intended to create a chilling effect on university campuses, silencing educators from speaking about controversial or uncomfortable topics. Educators do not intend to “compel” beliefs, they simply wish to educate their students and expose them to diverse viewpoints.


As Texas AAUP member Dr. Karma Chávez stated in her oral testimony opposing the bill, “SB 16 is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.” 


Despite the testimony from Dr. Chávez and many others against the bill, the subcommittee reported SB 16 favorably.


Read more about community college funding proposals on our website.

Retirement: Legislature Considers COLA and WEP/GPO Repeal

Phyllis Ruffin sits at testimony table next to Eli Melendrez in the senate committee on finance meeting speaking into the microphone.

Rita Runnels sits at testimony table in the senate committee on finance meeting speaking into the microphone.

This Wednesday, both the House Pensions, Investment, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee and Senate Finance Committee considered proposals that would provide TRS educators with a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Both chambers’ COLA bills, SB 10 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), and HB 600 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), are considered “priority” pieces of legislation, meaning they have the support of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan. 


Both bills would provide a tiered COLA, with varying percentages depending on one’s retirement date, and a one-time supplemental check, similar to previous 13th checks, that would be provided to retirees of a certain age or older. Check out our previous hotline for brief summaries of each proposal. 


Texas AFT Retiree Plus Board members Rita Runnels and Phyllis Ruffin also provided testimony, traveling all the way from the Houston area to do so. Both Runnels and Ruffin testified that they appreciate the COLA, but they encouraged legislators to increase the COLAs from the percentages currently laid out in the bills.

Read more about proposals to relating to employment after retirement and social security fairness on our website.

— Texas Education Agency

Text reads: T-E-A Teacher Vacancy Task Force Report Deep Dive.

This is the final of three deep dives we will take into the final report from the Texas Education Agency’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force. The recommendations from the report fell into three broad categories: 

  • Compensation
  • Working Conditions
  • Training & Support

We took a brief pause after covering topics related to compensation and working conditions. Today, we will take a closer look at the final area of recommendations: training and support.

In the 2021-2022 school year, approximately 40% of newly hired teachers came from alternative certification programs (ACPs) or were not certified. Data shows that these teachers receive inadequate preparation and are more likely to leave the profession. These first-year teachers serve at least half a million Texas students annually, and their students are more likely to be economically disadvantaged and students of color. The report recognizes the need to improve the pre-service pipeline for new teachers entering the profession and to create support to help retain them in the classroom. 

Read more of our breakdown on our website.

— HISD Takeover

In Takeover Meetings, TEA Hears (More Than Expected) from Community

Frustrated by a lack of answers, Houston Educational Support Personnel member Karla Mattox interjects at the first community meeting hosted by the Texas Education Agency.

Frustrated by a lack of answers, Houston Educational Support Personnel member Karla Mattox interjects at the first community meeting hosted by the Texas Education Agency.

Following the announcement last week that the Texas Education Agency planned to remove the democratically elected school board of Houston ISD and take over management of the district, the agency hosted the first two of four planned community meetings. 


They did not go as planned. 


At the first meeting on Tuesday at Westbury High School, Alejandro Delgado, TEA’s deputy commissioner of operations, attempted to keep the scope of the meeting limited to discussions of the nine-member board of managers that will be appointed to run the district, instead of the board elected by the community. 


Of that process, Delgado said there have been 138 applicants to the board of managers; applications are due on April 6, and the board will be installed by June 1. 


Parents, school employees, and community members in attendance, however, had other questions, many of which TEA officials at the meeting seemed unprepared or unwilling to answer: Why is the district being taken over when it has been given a B rating by TEA? How much control will TEA exert over operations? Will the board of managers reflect the community? How are issues that would affect student test scores, like chronic underfunding, be addressed?

At the first meeting, attendees grew so frustrated with the evasiveness, they began to chant “Where is Mike Morath?”, and TEA handed control of the meeting to U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who voiced her own opposition to the takeover

At the second meeting, on Wednesday at Chavez High School, educators and parents passed around a bullhorn to ask questions and share concerns so they could not be brushed off. 


“What our schools need is more funding,” said Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of Community Voices for Public Education. “If the governor really cared about us he would make sure that our class sizes are small. If the governor really cared about us, instead of last night being somewhere else, he would’ve come.” 

We agree with the Houston Chronicle’s incredulous editorial board: “TEA’s response suggests a disrespectful disinterest in even being prepared for the types of questions they were going to get, for the concerns that the fix is in here.”

There are two additional community meetings scheduled: 

  • 6:30 p.m., March 29: Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center
  • 6:30 p.m., March 30: Kashmere High Schoo

Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson and Houston Educational Support Personnel President Wretha Thomas have promised members will be at every meeting, making their voices heard. 

— Teacher Retirement System

Texas AFT Supports Phyllis Ruffin for TRS Board of Trustees

Last week ballots to elect the next TRS board members were sent out to TRS members across the state. Texas AFT Retiree Plus Board member Phyllis Ruffin is running to represent educators on the TRS Board of Trustees. Phyllis is running for the “at-large” position on the TRS board, meaning that both active educators and retired educators can vote for Phyllis. We encourage all Texas AFT members to support Phyllis.


Phyllis Ruffin provided a statement, encouraging active and retired educators to cast a vote for her.


Physical ballots were mailed out to TRS members, but eligible members can also vote online. The voting period ends May 5.


The TRS Board of Trustees is responsible for administering TRS and making decisions regarding its $200 billion investment fund. Though the TRS Board of Trustees is not responsible for setting the amount in monthly annuities that retirees receive, the decisions the board makes impact the health of the fund, which has been identified by the Legislature as a key factor when considering the passage of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

— Sponsored Message

DonorsChoose Giveaway from Horace Mann

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 AFT Celebrates Women’s History Month

Text reads: Texas A-F-T celebrated women's history month.

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.

Photo of Veronica Ruiz.

Emma Tenayuca

On Jan. 31, 1938, 12,000 pecan shellers in San Antonio — mostly Hispanic women — walked off the job, sparking a three-month strike over poor working conditions and low pay. 


At the heart of the protest was Emma Tenayuca. 


Tenayuca, then just 22 years old, had already developed into a political activist with a strong sense of social justice. She made it her mission to organize female workers across San Antonio. 

Nominated by Alejandra Lopez, president of the San Antonio Alliance

Two female silhouettes behind an old newspaper clip describing the Laundry Workers Strike.

Shelley Potter

Shelley Potter’s union journey started in a classroom in San Antonio ISD’s Brackenridge Elementary, with no air-conditioning and windows boarded up for construction. 


What started as the demands of a first-grade teacher for fans in classrooms turned into a broader fight over student learning conditions. Alongside her colleagues, her advocacy led to a “Cool Schools” bond proposed by the school board and approved by voters. 


By 1985, she had been elected president of her local union. 

Nominated by Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Local control is under attack in Austin Some state lawmakers insist that the cities, which are empowered to pass ordinances to address decidedly local concerns, are crossing into the state’s authority. So among the more than 8,000 bills in the legislative hopper in Austin this session are an onerous batch of wide-ranging preemption bills to roll back the regulatory authority of Texas cities. (The Dallas Morning News, March 20)

📖“He Has a Battle Rifle”: Uvalde Police Waited to Enter Classroom, Fearing Firepower From Gunman’s AR-15. Almost a year after Texas’ deadliest school shooting killed 19 children and two teachers, there is still confusion among investigators, law enforcement leaders and politicians over how nearly 400 law enforcement officers could have performed so poorly. In their own words, during and after their botched response, the officers pointed to one reason: They were unwilling to confront the rifle on the other side of the door. (The Texas Tribune & ProPublica, March 20)


📖 Preaching to the Choir: Greg Abbott Tours Private Christian Schools (Exclusively) to Make the Case for Vouchers. It’s impossible not to notice that Gov. Greg Abbott has only visited expensive private Christian institutions—all Protestant—in front of friendly audiences of parents who have opted out of public education. If the goal was to reassure critics that Abbott’s embrace of vouchers wasn’t a recipe for draining the public school system while subsidizing the children of wealthy Christian conservatives in private schools of their choice, well, none of those critics were around to hear it. (Texas Monthly, March 16) 


🎧 Will ‘Educational Freedom’ Handcuff Public Schools in Texas? Republicans have made “educational freedom” a priority in Austin this legislative session and there is now a bill they say does just that. SB 8 would provide $8,000 for families to move their children from public schools to private schools. But critics wonder who will be holding private schools accountable since public schools are held to a different standard, as they’re judged by standardized testing and private schools are not. (Y’all-itics Podcast, March 19)