March 3, 2023: Celebrating Maintenance Workers & Women’s History Month

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

Friday, March 3, 2023

‘Respect for Those of Us Who Are the Foundation of Every School’

Text reads: Happy School Maintenance Worker Appreciation Day.

Saturday, March 4, is Maintenance Worker Appreciation Day, an important time to recognize the too-often-ignored contributions of the support staff who keep schools safe, clean, and usable for our kids.

Too many of our schools’ support staff are barely getting by, eking out a living on paychecks that never seem to get any bigger. Texas AFT’s Respect Agenda calls for a minimum 15% across-the-board raise for classified school employees. Truly, it’s the least our state can do.

Who better to hear from for this day than our members themselves? Fressy Molina is a custodian in Judson ISD. We thank her for the work she does, and we want you to hear directly from her about her job — and what she needs to keep doing it:

“Me gusta mi trabajo por que es un reto de todos los dias el poder darle a la escuela una nueva cara el que brille, el que todo este limpio el que todo este desinfectado para que nuestros niños al dia siguiente la puedan encontrar de la mejor manera.


Me gusta mi trabajo, me gusta hacerlo, pero pienso que merecemos un mejor salario. Es un trabajo muy pesado, es un trabajo que mucha gente no quiere hacer. En realidad, no es justo. Necesitamos mas dinero, mas apoyo, y mas respecto para los que somos la “foundation” de cada escuela.”

“I like my job because it is a daily challenge to be able to give the school a new face, one that shines, and that everything is clean, everything is disinfected so that our children can find it in the best way the next day.


I like my job, I like doing it, but I think we deserve a better salary. It’s a very difficult job, it’s a job that many people don’t want to do. Really, it’s not fair. We need more money, more support, and more respect for those of us who are the foundation of every school.”

Gracias, Fressy, por su importante trabajo y por usar su voz para ayudar a otros.

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • We take a closer look at the recommendations on teacher compensation in TEA’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force report. 
  • Texas House and Senate committees are beginning their work and getting an earful from us about the needs of current and retired Texas school employees. 
  • Also in the Legislature, we highlight some good bills of the week and a stunning display of hypocrisy from those who attack LGBTQIA+ Texans. 
  • We start Women’s History Month by celebrating two of our very own incredible leaders. 
  • Our national union calls on the U.S. Congress to raise the debt ceiling before it imperils critical services like school funding.

— Texas Education Agency

What’s in the Teacher Vacancy Task Force Report? Compensation

Text reads: T-E-A teacher vacancy task force report deep dive - Compensation.

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

  • Compensation
  • Training & Support
  • Working Conditions

Today, we will take a closer look at the largest and most important set of recommendations related to compensation.


Increase Overall Compensation and Support Strategic Compensation Strategies


This first recommendation gets at the heart of our Respect Agenda: a minimum overall compensation for certified staff of at least $10,000. The report recognizes that in order to compensate our teachers adequately, we must look for ways to increase funding to the overall system via the basic allotment. We can further increase district funds by supporting an enrollment-based funding formula rather than our current and burdensome average daily attendance (ADA) model that left nearly 300,000 students uncounted in the 2021-22 school year.


While there is nothing “wrong” with the second recommendation of increasing the salary schedule, the reality is that most districts already pay well above this minimum. However, we would support legislation that raises the floor for compensation for our professional teaching staff. 


Where we take issue with the report is with “strategic compensation.” TEA wants to spend more on its pay-for-performance scheme known as the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), even though it has been demonstrated to be difficult to implement in an equitable manner across districts and disproportionately leaves out rural school systems and teachers in non-core content areas like CTE and the arts. We have no objection to a teacher making six figures, but this cannot come at the expense of an across-the-board increase for all certified and classified staff.

Read more of our breakdown of the task force’s compensation recommendations on our website.

— Texas Legislature

Committee Work Heats Up in the 88th Legislature

Image reads: News from the 88th legislative session.

Senate, House Education Committees Begin Hearings 

The House Public Education Committee met for its first official hearing of the session Tuesday. The committee, under the new leadership of Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Salado), heard invited testimony from the Texas Education Agency and the Texas School Safety Center. 


For the seven new members on the committee, this was largely an informational hearing to get them acquainted with the mammoth tasks and challenges that face our Texas public schools.   

Commissioner Mike Morath pointed out some disparities among teacher salaries in the state and also touted the results of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force. He acknowledged the unsustainable work-life balance that teachers are having to navigate, but his solution of providing (presumably state-developed and -approved) instructional materials may not be the silver bullet he promotes it to be. Some committee members took exception to the commissioner’s plan to revamp the A-F accountability system beginning with next school year. 

The commissioner gave a nearly identical presentation to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. One notable difference was the committee’s interest in the hugely problematic HB 4545, regarding accelerated instruction for students who fail a STAAR assessment. Both the members and Morath recognized the problems in the implementation of this bill and seem invested in taking measures to correct this new, massive imposition on teachers’ workload.

Texas A-F-T members testifying in front of the House appropriations committee.

House Appropriations, Pensions Committees Discuss Funding for Educator Salaries & Pensions

On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee on Article III (the education portion of the state budget) heard testimony from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), as well as from Texas AFT.


Texas AFT Retiree Plus members Pamela Davis-Duck, Phyllis Ruffin, and Rita Carden Runnels provided testimony on the need for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their TRS annuity. No TRS retiree who has retired since 2004 has ever received a COLA, despite the fact that a dollar today is worth only two-thirds of what it was worth in 2004. Education Austin member Rebekah Ozuna, meanwhile, testified on the need to provide educators with raises and additional support in the classroom.


Texas AFT Director of Public Affairs and Legislative Counsel Patty Quinzi provided testimony urging the Legislature to increase education funding by substantially increasing the basic allotment. For any increase in the basic allotment, districts are statutorily required to spend 30% of the allotment on compensation, either for hiring or raises. Texas AFT’s Respect Agenda calls for a minimum $10,000 across-the-board raise for certified educators and a minimum 15% across-the-board raise for classified educators.


Testimony from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath contrasted significantly with that given by Texas AFT. While Morath said it would be “wise” to increase the basic allotment, he failed to give a straightforward answer when asked directly by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) what an adequate increase to the allotment would be. Morath also said he was “not a fan” of across-the-board pay raises like Texas AFT has proposed and instead prefers “performance-based” raises based on student performance on standardized tests.  


At both the appropriations hearing Monday and the Pensions, Investments, and Financials Services (PIFS) Committee on Wednesday, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the Legislature with information on how they could fund a TRS COLA. In the proposed state budget, the Legislature has stated its intent to provide TRS members with a benefit enhancement of some sort but did not provide specific information about how that enhancement would be structured or financed. 

Read more from our committee recaps & find our list of good bills of the week on our website.

Legislative Advocacy Trainings

Getting to Know Key Public Education Bills

Wednesday, March 8

6-7:30 p.m. CT

Register for the Zoom link


What are the need-to-know (and need-to-pass) bills in the Legislature? Texas AFT staff will guide you through what’s been introduced, what’s moving, and what you need to know about where our Respect Agenda stands.

Sign up for this and future sessions online.

— Black History

Dwight Harris stands with family members holding proclamation honoring his sister, Shirley.

Legacy Remembered: Texas AFT lobbyist and former president of Victoria AFT Dwight Harris accepted a proclamation signed by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) honoring his late sister, Shirley Harris. In 1967, Shirley Harris became the first Black graduate from Texas State University (then called Southwest Texas State College). You can read more about Shirley and Dwight in our Black History Month spotlights from February.

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 Rita Runnels.

Rita Runnels

Aretta “Rita” Carden Runnels’ love for education began as a young girl; her mother was an elementary school teacher, and her father was a college administrator. As she grew, she witnessed the profound impact teachers could have in society, and she knew that she wanted to have that same impact.


Today, she serves as the chair of Texas AFT Retiree Plus and has dedicated herself to making a difference for educators in Cy-Fair ISD and Texas.

Nominated by Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT

Headshot of Candis Houston.

Candis Houston

Candis Houston is a former educator, proud mother, and the president of Aldine AFT. 


With 17 years of classroom experience as a business teacher, Houston’s commitment to public education runs deep. As she so often says, it is both a privilege and a serious responsibility to teach the next generation of small business owners and community leaders. 

As president of Aldine AFT, Houston has fought fiercely for the rights of school support personnel.

Nominated by Denetris Jones, vice president of Houston Educational Support Personnel

— Legislative Advocacy

Allies Rally for Public Education, School Safety at the Capitol

Left, Uvalde teacher Arnulfo “Arnie” Reyes surrounded by parents of students killed in the Robb Elementary shooting. Right, Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, speaks to the need to educate ALL Texas school children.


Texas AFT regularly participates in coalition work with allies related to our legislative priorities; in the past week, we have had the chance to join our coalition partners at the Capitol for successful advocacy days. 


More than 400 advocates from a dozen allied organizations marched to the Capitol on Tuesday for the Texas Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence’s advocacy day. Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), as well as a surviving teacher and student from Uvalde, spoke passionately about the need for commonsense gun reforms and the need to keep guns out of our schools. 


The Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition (TLEEC) also held its advocacy day on Wednesday. Advocates spoke out against voucher schemes and in support of high-quality bilingual education programs, as well as the need to preserve diversity and educational freedom on our university campuses. 

We will provide continued advocacy highlights throughout the session.

— LGBTQ+ Rights

Lawmaker Calling for Bans on Public Drag Performances Appears to Have Performed in Drag Publicly

A recently surfaced video appears to show freshman state Rep. Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth) wearing a dress while dancing in a park. In the 88th Legislature, Schatzline has filed HB 1266, which would effectively ban public drag shows. 

The bill would amend Texas Business and Commerce code such that any venue that hosts drag performances would be classified as a “sexually oriented business,” which would restrict individuals less than 18 years of age from entering the premises of these businesses. The bill would also impose a $5 tax for every individual who enters the business.

The bill defines drag broadly as a “performance in which a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth … and sings, lip-syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.” Schatzline’s alleged public dance through the park while wearing a dress would seemingly be banned by his own bill.

Schatzline’s bill — and the recently surfaced video — come at a time when the Legislature is also fielding bills that attack LBTQIA+ students and censor curriculum and school libraries. As established at our union’s last biennial convention in 2021, Texas AFT stands against all attempts to discriminate against students, educators, and LGBTQIA+ Texans.

— U.S. Congress

AFT Calls on Congress to Raise the Debt Ceiling

The American Federation of Teachers, along with dozens of our union’s partner groups, have called on the U.S. Congress to raise the national ceiling before the country defaults on its debt. 


Raising the debt ceiling in no way subjects the country to additional debt by increasing federal spending, it simply frees up the U.S. Treasury to pay off our existing debts so the government can continue to meet previous debt obligations. The debt ceiling is an arbitrarily set limit set by Congress. In the past, bipartisan majorities in Congress have periodically raised the debt ceiling.   

If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the government will no longer be able to pay its bills. If the government is left unable to pay for Social Security benefits, previously pledged school funding, federal employees’ salaries, and Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, millions across the country would suffer. Additionally, interest paid by Americans for mortgages, car payments, student loans, and credit cards would skyrocket. Economists predict that a credit default would result in a stock market crash and an estimated 6 million lost jobs, increasing the unemployment rate to 7%. 


The debt ceiling should not be leveraged by politicians as a tool for partisan negotiations. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic for all Americans. Congress has a long history of working in a bipartisan manner to raise the debt limit with no strings attached, as was done three times under the Trump administration, and it must do so again as soon as possible.

Recommended Reading

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

📖​​How a Texas girl scared of school shootings was punished. At a time when schools, and children, are told to stay vigilant to prevent the next shooting, Lewisville ISD’s response to a potential threat exposed a Black eighth-grader to a level of harsh discipline that research shows has a disproportionate impact on children of color and potentially devastating effects. (The Dallas Morning News, March 2)

📖‘Crisis in the teacher workforce’: State task force calls for higher pay, more training. Higher pay, expanded training and a high-quality work environment should help tame a growing teacher retention and recruitment challenge in the state, according to a task force of teachers and school administrators. “How you fill the vacancies in public schools is to pay people more and treat them with respect,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin. “This is not rocket science.” (Austin American-Statesman, Feb. 28)

📺Will a four-day school week retain teachers? Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said a four-day school week could cause more problems than solutions. “It cannot be just a simplistic ‘Hey, everybody’s going to be off on this day of the week. It’s got to be really thoughtful and strategic about how that time is going to be used and how they think through the potential pitfalls and address those needs.” (CBS 19, Feb. 24)