May 10, 2021: Lawmaker uses children for retaliation in schools bill; STAAR bill on the move; Fresh fruit and veggies delivered to kids

ACTION ALERTS!

The latest threat to educators: HB 3979, which could be heard on the House floor today. This bill limits the free speech and ideas of teachers, students, and state agency employees. The prohibitions in the bill are broad and curtail the learning, diversity, and inclusion efforts already underway in schools. Send an online letter to your House rep now telling them to oppose this destructive bill!

 

The STAAR test is a poor performance measurement of any child, teacher, campus, or district. HB 3731 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston) would increase the number of public school districts and their elected boards that would be susceptible to state takeover by the appointed commissioner of education and would intensify the state’s focus on standardized testing. The bill was voted down in the House, but will be reconsidered today. Send an online letter to your House rep now telling them to vote no on HB 3731!

Twitter user? See our campaign page to Tweet your legislators.


Rep. Harold Dutton uses children to retaliate against his peers

Harold Dutton speaking at mic on House FloorRep. Harold Dutton, Jr.

Bills aiming for easier state takeovers of school districts in limbo

Two bills that would give an enormous amount of authority to the unelected commissioner of education to take over elected school boards are in limbo after fierce opposition from public education advocates last week.

HB 3270 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston)—the bill targeting Houston ISD for state takeover—would circumvent all the courts to more easily allow TEA to take over any elected school board in Texas. The bill was heard on the House floor last Thursday, where Rep. Alma Allen of Houston killed the bill with a point of order. However, the story didn’t end there.

Dutton, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, held a committee meeting Friday morning and chided his fellow Democrats for killing his bill the day before. To make clear the point, he brought back another bill for consideration—SB 29 on transgender youth in school sports—which already had been defeated in his committee. That bill would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” Dutton told his peers that because HB 3270 had been killed on a point of order, he would be retaliating by bringing back SB 29 (and he subsequently voted in favor of the bill). The House did not broadcast the meeting, but Dutton’s comments were videotaped.

“When you come after children you cross the line,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said in a statement to the media Friday. “Chairman Dutton’s bullying of educators, Texas children, and his fellow legislators needs to stop today. Shame on him for using trans children as a political balm to salve his wounded pride. From voting for more guns to more high-stakes tests to more state takeovers to more discrimination, Harold Dutton has been wrong on issue after issue, session after session.”

At the same meeting Friday, Dutton brought the senate companion to HB 3270—SB 1365—up for a vote, but it failed to pass. Dutton then decided to hold a revote during the lunch hour and SB 1365 passed when a committee member flipped his vote. The bill now heads to calendars and could be on the floor soon. So there’s still a need to speak out against these bills, which you can do here with an online letter—or Twitter users can send a tweet here.

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Your opposition to bills backed by the charter PACs creates a rough road to passage for bad bills

Texas House ChamberThanks to the thousands of letters, phone calls and tweets from our members and allies, a bill giving charter schools (and the corporations that run many of them from out of state) a special perk in the form of a property tax break, had a rocky road and was improved before passage.

Texas AFT opposed HB 3610 (Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio) and rallied our members against it. The bill would allow owners of buildings to avoid property taxes when leasing to charter schools. By Friday, it appeared we would prevail. The House initially voted down the bill on second reading 76-66. However, a motion for a verifying voice vote proceeded after many House Democrats opposing the bill were not on the House floor, and the bill ended up passing 67-66.

On Saturday for the bill’s third and final reading, Rep. Dan Huberty of Houston added an amendment adding traditional school districts and community colleges to the bill to also receive the tax break when leasing buildings. (Although ISDs leasing facilities is not as common.) Huberty’s amendment also requires these landlords to pass on any tax savings directly back to schools. Rep. Gary Van Deaver of New Boston pointed out that the bill would still create a situation ripe for corruption, with charter schools leasing from related companies, and those landlords not delivering the tax breaks back. However, Huberty’s addition was enough to sway some legislators and the bill finally passed in a squeaker.

Our members speaking out also stopped another bad bill, HB 1348 (Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur), which would eliminate the authority of any elected official to determine where charter schools can locate in our communities. The House voted down that bill on Thursday. It was reconsidered then postponed until after the session after facing a point of order. A Senate companion bill, however, is still pending in the Senate Education Committee.

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Promising bill limiting STAAR testing is on the move

Cover of STAAR bookletWhile there may be considerable partisan battles in Legislature over many issues, bills attempting to limit standardized testing have been a uniting force for members of the Texas House in recent years (although with promising bills often meeting their death in the Senate). HB 764 (Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth) would remove STAAR tests in writing in grades four and seven, in social studies in grade eight, and in any additional subject and grade not required by federal law. It also would allow districts to replace End of Course exams with new norm-referenced tests (like the ACT/SAT) to meet federal testing requirements in high school. And as amended on the House floor, the bill:

  • Would not allow results from these new high school, norm-referenced tests to affect graduation.
  • In a statewide national disaster, would not allow test results from a disrupted district to be used for state ratings, accountability sanctions, or requirements for graduation.
  • Allow parents of students with cognitive impairments to request an exemption from the alternative STAAR test and instead—with the approval of their Admissions, Review and Dismissal Committee—take a district-developed assessment based on the goals of the student’s Individualized Education Plan.

The bill passed the House Friday 136-6 and now heads to the Senate.

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Legislative Briefs


Brighter Bites partnership will bring fresh fruit, vegetables to Houston school

Brighter Bites volunteers with boxes of fruits and vegetablesBrighter Bites, a nonprofit organization that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables and nutrition education resources directly into families’ hands, will partner with Texas AFT and AFT to support students and their families at Dogan Elementary School, located in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

The partnership will ensure that all 200 participating families at Dogan Elementary receive 16 weeks of Brighter Bites programming this spring and fall. As part of the Brighter Bites program, students will receive 20-25 pounds of fresh, seasonal produce and teacher-led nutrition education on a weekly basis. Co-branded AFT/Brighter Bites signage will also be featured throughout the school, promoting healthy eating and wellness.

“Kids who are hungry can’t focus on learning, and research shows that they’re more likely to be distracted, anxious and more likely to face other negative impacts like school discipline,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “As part of our effort to make public schools places that support the whole child, and centers where families and communities feel welcome and safe, we want every kid to be able to access healthy meals, so they’re ready to concentrate, grow and thrive.”

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Leadership Spotlight: El Paso AFT President Ross Moore

Ross Moore, center and staff

El Paso AFT focuses on advocacy — for members, on-campus issues, district issues, and state issues. It’s a constant fight to protect members at one level or another. Having grown in recent years, El Paso AFT is approaching 3,000 members just as it celebrated its 45th anniversary last year.

El Paso AFT President Ross Moore has spent much of his time stopping charter-school expansion in the area. “There’s a pro-charter organization run by billionaires that we’ve been fighting with for six years to keep them from turning EPISD schools into in-district charters…. They saw this election as an opportunity to put four trustees on the school board, pick the next superintendent, and have full sway with their agenda.”

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Clinic helps residents work through process to citizenship

Dianne Guitierrez and Blanca Florencia at Texas AFT boothAFT, Texas AFT and Houston-area local unions teamed up last week with the Texas AFL-CIO and other community partners to host Saturday’s “Together We Rise” May Day citizenship clinic and community fair in Houston.

“Together We Rise” started with a series of informational naturalization forums open to more than 297,000 eligible area residents. These events and the clinic were an opportunity for residents to receive guidance on the naturalization process, to understand the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen, and to access resources to help them complete their application.


AFT launches new health and wellness series

Heart with swirling images of healthy happy peopleWe know stress is at an all-time high and that you are working around the clock, doing more than double, or triple, the amount of work you would do during a normal school year. Your union hears you!

AFT has launched a new health and wellness series and resource center. Over the next several weeks, fitness instructors, social-emotional and mental health leaders, and nutritionists will collectively “work out” and de-stress our bodies and our minds.

Register online for all new health and wellness sessions now available on demand

 


What learning opportunities would you like this summer?

Texas AFT’s Professional Issues Committee is gathering information on what professional learning opportunities educators need this summer. Please take a minute to respond to this survey to help us develop our summer calendar. The deadline to respond is May 20.


Events

 

Bright colored lines and text of Vision, Strategy and PowerTexas AFT will hold its biennial convention virtually on June 25-26. The Texas AFT Convention is the highest governing body of our state union. Delegates have the power to set the general policies of the organization by adopting convention resolutions, amending the constitution and by-laws, and electing the Texas AFT president and secretary-treasurer.

Those interested in being delegates for local unions should contact your union directly for more information. Guests also are welcome to register for and attend the convention. See our Convention 2021 page for more information. Deadline to register is June 15.


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