May 17, 2021: Take action to stop state takeovers; Charter school bills derailed; A-F bill fails, but is inserted in takeover bill

ACTION ALERT!

Say no to state takeovers: SB 1365 gives the commissioner of education ‘final and unappealable power’

Text: Action AlertSome in the Legislature want to make it easier for the state to take over a school district. Educators defeated House Bill 3270, but now its companion, Senate Bill 1365, is headed for a vote. SB 1365 gives an enormous amount of authority to the unelected commissioner of education to override the will of thousands of voters by taking over an elected school board.
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A-F bill fails in House, but is inserted in
state takeover bill

A bad bill that would have made it easier to get an unacceptable campus rating under the A-F system—and thus likely add more takeovers of our public schools—was voted down in the Texas House last week. HB 3731 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston) failed on a vote of 59-82. However, that damaging provision now appears in SB 1365, also a Dutton bill that’s designed to give the commissioner of education “final and unappealable” power in the process for removing local elected school boards and replacing them with a TEA board of managers.

Texas AFT will be opposing this bill.The A-F accountability system includes a reliance, to a large extent, on standardized test scores. The STAAR test is a poor measurement of any child, teacher, campus, or district’s performance. It appears that Dutton is determined to keep this harmful proposal moving in the session, making it much easier for the commissioner of education to take over an elected school board.

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Bill banning instruction on controversial topics is approved by House

Word cloud with social studies issuesA bill we opposed, HB 3979, passed last week by a vote of 79-65.This restrictive legislation will limit the free speech and ideas of teachers, students, and state agency employees. The prohibitions in the bill are broad and may be interpreted in ways that limit the learning, diversity, and inclusion efforts already underway in schools across Texas.

HB 3979 will discourage teachers from discussing current events in social studies courses, prohibit students from receiving course credit for participation in activities and organizations that encourage civic engagement, and ban important school-wide race and gender diversity training for teachers, administrators, and state agency employees.

Democrats successfully added several amendments that require curriculum recognizing significant events in Women’s Suffrage, African Americans and Mexican Americans, and Native Americans in U.S. history. Nevertheless, the bill still contains the limits on exploring important current events.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which passed its own version of the legislation, SB 2201. We remain concerned that any positive amendments are unlikely to survive.

The Republican backers of the bill tried to note that many of the restrictions are based on teachers not being “compelled” to teach certain issues. But we are concerned many districts won’t want to take any risks by allowing teachers to discuss “controversial” topics.

The specific references by Republicans to banning Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project (both explorations of racial issues on American history and society) make it clear that this is a wedge issue for state and local political races. The bill is part of a national movement by conservatives trying to sow a narrative of students being indoctrinated by teachers. Our members rightfully have expressed outrage against this insult of their professionalism to provide balanced conversations with students on controversial issues.

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Thanks to our members, charter-school bills still struggling under the dome

Sen. Paul Bettencourt in the Senate Chamber

One of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top priorities for charter-school expansion—SB 28 (Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston)—took a blow when the House Public Education Committee voted it down. The bill, which passed the full Senate on April 14, would limit the power of local elected officials in regulating and approving charter-school locations. The bill also would add new restrictions to the State Board of Education’s power to veto new charter applications—thus effectively putting the power of charter approval in the hands of the unelected education commissioner. The SB 28 vote did not include the full committee of 13 members, so we will be watching to see if it resurfaces for another vote.

Another bill promoting charter expansion—HB 1348 (Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont)—was defeated on May 6, but it has a companion bill in the Senate, SB 487 (Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola). SB 487 would grant the same zoning exemptions to charter schools as those received by real public schools. Sen. Hughes amended the bill to repeal a special exemption charters currently have in law allowing them to build anywhere in cities with a population under 20,000, which is about 94% of incorporated areas in Texas. It passed the Senate Friday and will head to the House.

The letters, phone calls, tweets, and public comments from our members have made a huge impact on legislators ready to stand up against unbridled charter-school expansion. Stay tuned to take action if needed, since the provisions in these bills could pop up again in the waning weeks of the session.

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Legislative Updates

The House

  • Legislation is moving to extend the deadlines for the reading academies rules passed with HB 3 in 2019. The deadlines for teachers required to complete the academies may be changed from the 2021-2022 school year to 2022-2023. Texas AFT has heard from many of our members that the requirements for the 60-hour academies can be onerous, and there are concerns about teachers not being paid for the time spent on the work. We will keep you updated on any changes.
  • HB 4545 (Harold Dutton, D-Houston): The committee substitute and amendments for HB 4545 address many concerns that Texas AFT had with the filed version of the bill—including funding based on outcomes from the STAAR exams. It would remove statutory requirements that students in grades 5 and 8 pass their required reading and math standardized tests for promotion to the next grade. Texas AFT does continue to have concerns about how the bill’s accelerated learning and grant programs would work. This bill finally passed the House after being reconsidered and is now headed to the Senate.
  • HB 547 (James Frank, R-Wichita Falls) authorizes—but does not require—a public school to provide an eligible home-schooled student with the opportunity to participate in University Interscholastic League (UIL) events. It passed the House 78-65 and heads to the Senate.
  • HB 2802 (Jay Dean, R-Longview) would require the commissioner of education to apply for a U.S. Department of Education waiver to suspend standardized testing during any disaster declared in a school year—such as a pandemic—by the governor or president. Texas AFT supported this bill, which passed the House 141-0, and now heads to the Senate.
  • HB 2344 (Erin Zwiener, D-Dripping Springs) allows districts to use a writing portfolio assessment in place of STAAR reading tests in grades 3-8, and English end-of-course exams in high school. Texas AFT supported this bill, which passed the House 107-35, and now heads to the Senate.
  • HB 3889 (Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston) would change law to allow the Texas Education Agency to provide no-cost broadband access, with a goal implementing that access with more than 1 million students. Texas AFT supported this bill, which passed the House, 104-39, and now heads to the Senate.
  • HB1585 (Stan Lambert, R-Abilene/SB 706, Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville) would implement recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission review of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and set the date for the next TRS Sunset review for 2033. The bill would require TRS to:
    • adjust financial penalties for TRS retirees who return to work in
    • public education;
    • require the appointment of an ombudsman to monitor the agency’s interactions with members and investigate complaints; and
    • require TRS to make improved efforts to return contributions to inactive members before funds were forfeited.
  • HB 1744 (Bobby Guerra, D-Mission) would have the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board establish a program to provide financial incentives such as tuition assistance or student loan repayment to incentivize bilingual teachers. The bill passed the House and is headed to the Senate. HB 396 (Joe Moody, D-El Paso) would make nurses eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19. The bill passed the House and is headed to the Senate. SB 1776 (Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway) would require the inclusion of a high school elective course on the founding principles of the United States and the posting of the founding documents of the United States in public school buildings. The bill was amended to include Native Americans influence on the founding principles and documents of the United States and passed the House.

The Senate

  • SB 1968 (Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston) is a private-school voucher bill that would provide taxpayer funds for parents to pay private groups for academic services. Texas AFT is opposing this bill, which passed the Senate Education Committee Friday.
  • HB 1525 (Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood) was supposed to be a simple HB 3 “cleanup” bill to clarify what HB 3 was intended to do, but when it came over to the Senate Education Committee, two new sections were added to the bill that would allow the unelected commissioner of education unprecedented authority to decide how much funding schools should receive. The commissioner could unilaterally “adjust” public schools’ entitlement to the Foundation School Program, which is an apparent attempt to supplant the federal funds our schools are expecting. The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee and is now headed to the Senate floor, where we will strongly oppose it.
  • SB 2081 (Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio), which would limit Pre-K class sizes to 22 students passed the Senate this past week and is the companion bill to HB 41 (James Talarico- Austin), which also passed the House this week, so this law is now headed to the Governor for signing.
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Randi Weingarten gives comprehensive speech outlining AFT’s goals for the next school year


Return, Recover and Reimagine:
Toward A Renaissance in America’s Public Schools

AFT President Randi Weingarten outlined a bold AFT initiative in a speech Thursday that looks at the union’s goals for returning to school and outlines models used around the country for addressing academic progress, safety, and social/emotional support. You can watch the speech and read a transcript here.


Zen Karifis with members all in red and protest signs at rallyLeadership Spotlight: Ken Zarifis, Education Austin President

Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, has dedicated himself to bettering public education in Austin — whether through dumpster diving to save books or organizing his local union’s members to take action.

“There have been a lot of moments with students over the years that were real pinnacles of my career that contributed to my own learning and changing as a teacher and as a human being — moments of learning how to really listen,” Zarifis said. What I learned from my students and what they learned from me—building power, making politicians uncomfortable, finding ways to make connections—these things are what I carry into my work.”

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AFT continues its 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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