May 17, 2024: Vote to Thrive

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

Friday, May 17, 2024

Vote to Thrive

It has been a wild week in Texas education news, and we have lots of vital updates in this week’s Hotline. But before we dive in, a reminder: Early voting in primary election runoffs starts this coming Monday, May 20, and runs through Friday, May 24. There are no weekends in this early voting period.  

Because of how Texas districts are gerrymandered (something we’ve discussed frequently in our Educating Texas series), in many communities, whoever wins the primary is all but assured to win in the general election this November. If you have a primary runoff in your area, this may very well be your best last chance to have a real say in who will represent you in the 89th Legislature next year.  

Election Day in this runoff election is May 28. If you have races on your ballot, visit for more information, including educator-endorsed candidates. If you don’t have anything on your ballot this go-round, you can still make a difference.  

Without new leadership that makes public education a real priority, we cannot build the future we want to see: one with public schools fully funded and supported to thrive. Join Texas AFT COPE for political action text banks on Zoom so we can make sure every educator in Texas knows what’s on their ballot and what’s at stake this election year! 

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • Texas AFT has released its latest report, Thrive Together, which is a roadmap to a future Texas with thriving public schools, from pre-K to post-doc.  
  • It was a topsy-turvy week for in the debate over public school funding, as Gov. Greg Abbott tried to skirt blame for the budget collapses of districts across the state.  
  • At the Capitol, Texas AAUP-AFT joined educators and students for a 10-hour subcommittee meeting on the impact of anti-DEI bill Senate Bill 17.  
  • Another Day, Another Charter Scandal: State-installed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles is under scrutiny for the finances of the charter school network he founded.

— Report

Cover of The Thrive Together report.

Texas AFT Releases Vision for Thriving Public Schools in New White Paper 

Imagine a Texas where every child, from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley, had access to a fully funded, high-quality public education. A state where educators are respected and compensated fairly for their vital work, students’ diverse needs are met, and schools serve as community hubs that support the whole child. Sound like a utopian dream? 


It shouldn’t, argues the latest report from Texas AFT. In Thrive Together: A Vision for Texas Schools, from Pre-K to Post-Doc, we contend that Texas has the resources to build a world-class public education system – if only state leaders would make it a priority. 


“In the state with the world’s eighth-largest economy, our public schools should be the pride of our nation. Instead, they are chronically underfunded, leaving students and educators struggling to get by rather than thriving,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “This report outlines a different future, one where schools have the resources to meet the needs of all students at every stage of their education journey.” 


The comprehensive white paper highlights the importance of robust state funding to ensure access to the hallmarks of a “thriving” public school system, including:  

  • Universal pre-K and affordable childcare
  • Improving student literacy and fighting book bans 
  • Implementing community schools 
  • Fully funding special education and emergent bilingual programs 
  • Providing free school meals 
  • Addressing student mental health 
  • Preventing gun violence and promoting school safety, including environmental concerns 

  • Expanding career and technical education opportunities 
  • Protecting academic freedom in higher education 
  • Improving teacher recruitment, training, and retention 
  • Ensuring retirement security for educators 
  • Establishing the right to collectively bargain for school employees

— Wild Art

Reading Opens the World: AFT Celebrates 10 Million Books Donated with Event in Socorro ISD

On Saturday, May 11, AFT celebrated a significant milestone in its partnership with First Book: 10 million brand-new books donated to educators, students, and families over the past decade. To mark the occasion, our national union hosted five events across the country, including one in Socorro ISD. Together, AFT, Texas AFT, Socorro AFT, and district leaders handed out 40,000 books to educators and families in the district.  

As AFT President Randi Weingarten said about this milestone and the importance of the Reading Opens the World initiative, “This isn’t only about literacy and books — this is also about the importance of community. In hundreds of places, we have literally brought people together over a love of books. This partnership creates togetherness, soothes tensions and helps people see that there is far more that unites us than divides us.” 

— Texas Legislature

House Interim Charges Finally Released as School Funding Crisis Looms, Gaining Lawmakers’ Attention 

As students, educators, and school employees across Texas wrap up the 2023-2024 school year, a debate is brewing over the pressing challenges facing our public education system and the implications for our schools in the upcoming school year. 


On May 8, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan released interim charges directing House committees to study a range of issues before the 2025 legislative session. For public education, the charges include examining “educational opportunity” through education savings accounts (i.e. private school vouchers), the increase in uncertified teachers, and strategies to improve early literacy and math outcomes. 


Glaringly absent, however, were any charges related to resolving the looming school finance crisis many districts are facing due to inadequate funding and unfunded mandates from the state. The charges also fail to address the need for increased compensation for teachers and school employees, who are leaving the profession in droves due to stagnant pay. 


The sense of urgency around school funding prompted a group of Democratic state representatives, led by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston), to send a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on May 13 requesting he immediately call a special session to address the “drastic budget cuts” school districts are facing before students return in the fall. 

— Event

Event graphic.

Educating Texas: Your Retirement Questions Answered

Tuesday, May 28 

6-7 p.m. CT 

Texas has the eighth-largest economy in the world and a $32.7 billion budget surplus, but our schools are starved for resources. How did this happen? What can we do to fix it? Can it be fixed? 

Head back to school with Texas AFT for a brush-up on your civics education. In this bimonthly Zoom series, we’re walking through who holds the power in this state, what they’re doing with it, and what we need to build thriving public schools — and a thriving Lone Star State democracy. 

Our next session is this Tuesday, May 28, where we’ll focus on all things educator retirement, from TRS annuities to the trouble with WEP/GPO at the federal level. Sign up for this and all other sessions on our Mobilize page. 

Missed our previous sessions? Watch the recordings on our YouTube page. 

— Houston ISD Takeover

One of several yard signs for sale to benefit the No More Harm campaign, launched by the Houston Federation of Teachers, Houston CVPE, and a broad coalition of community members. Find more information at All yard sign purchases donate to HFT COPE. 

Spectrum News Exposes Texas Public School Dollars Being Sent to Mike Miles’ Former Colorado Charter Schools 

On Tuesday, Spectrum News published a jaw-dropping report that shows Texas taxpayer dollars, intended for Texas schools, being diverted out of state to a Colorado charter school network. The founder of that charter school network? Mike Miles, the state-installed superintendent of Houston ISD.  


Before being appointed to helm Houston ISD amid the Texas Education Agency’s takeover of the B-rated district and after he was run out of his superintendent role in Dallas ISD, Miles founded the Third Future Schools charter school network with three schools in Colorado. All three of those schools, as reporter Brett Shipp notes, have since struggled with academic performance, student enrollment, and financial stability.  


They struggled so mightily, it seems, that Texas taxpayer money from Third Future’s Texas schools found its way to Third Future’s struggling Colorado schools … 

— Higher Education

Left: Texas AAUP-AFT President Brian Evans speaks to media Tuesday with allied groups and elected officials, including state Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston) and state Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio). Right: Educators, students, and community allies march from the UT Austin campus to the Texas Capitol. 

Senate Higher Ed Subcommittee Convenes to Study DEI, Free Speech, & Antisemitism 

This Tuesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education convened to consider the issues of free speech, antisemitism, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). This hearing was called last week to fulfill Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s charge to the Senate that it study this issue before the next legislative session, along with some other interim charges related to higher education and several interim charges related to K-12 public education. In theory, the study of these issues will inform legislators’ agendas heading into the next session.  


Texas AAUP-AFT joined several allied groups seeking to defend free speech and DEI programs. Many advocates including allies with the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU), ACLU of Texas, Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT), and others began the day at 7:30 a.m. by marching from the University of Texas at Austin campus to the Capitol for the hearing. The hearing lasted until 8 p.m. 


Several events preceding the interim hearing – including free speech crackdowns against campus anti-war protestors, the implementation of Senate Bill 17 (Texas’ DEI ban), and the decision to terminate many dozens of faculty and staff at schools in the UT system, despite them being in full compliance with state law – galvanized 148 members of the public to wait for hours to provide public testimony to the subcommittee. Most public testifiers, who included students, faculty, staff, and alumni, spoke in favor of DEI programs, against recent attacks on free speech, and against any form of antisemitism. 

— Censorship

This Week in ISD News 🥴

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Board Votes to Censor Science Textbooks 

It seems germane to preface the following bizarre installment in textbook censorship that Cy-Fair ISD is facing a $138 million budget shortfall for the 2024-2025 academic year.  

What should have been an innocuous item on textbook adoption after several hard budget decisions took an unexpected turn when a single board member, Natalie Blasingame, led a charge to remove 13 chapters from proposed textbooks covering biology, environmental science, earth systems, health science theory, and principles of education and training. These textbooks have been adopted by the State Board of Education (a much more conservative body than in years past) and reviewed by district curriculum and instructional staff. The chapters removed by a 6-1 vote included “controversial” topics like climate change, vaccines, and cultural diversity. 

Federal Probe Targets Katy ISD’s Gender Policy for Potential Discrimination 


The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has launched an investigation into Katy Independent School District (Katy ISD) to determine if its recently enacted gender identity policy discriminates against students. This investigation follows reports that Katy ISD disclosed the gender identities of 19 students to their parents without their consent shortly after the policy’s implementation in August 2023. 


The controversial policy, passed by a narrow 4-3 vote, mandates that staff notify parents if a student identifies as transgender or requests a name or pronoun change, with few exceptions. Additionally, the policy allows staff to refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns and prohibits discussions about gender fluidity. 

Recommended Reading

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

📖  A GOP Texas school board member campaigned against schools indoctrinating kids. Then she read the curriculum. Courtney Gore, a Granbury ISD school board member, has disavowed the far-right platform she campaigned on. Her defiance has brought her backlash. “I feel like if I don’t speak out, then I’m complicit,” Gore said. “I refuse to be complicit in something that’s going to hurt children.” (The Texas Tribune, May 15)  


📖 An Austin-area school district says staff need a break, so it’s going to offer mental health days.  Manor ISD is rolling out a new benefit during the 2024-2025 school year that will give employees time off to take care of their mental health. Superintendent Robert Sormani said he thinks it’s important to explicitly offer days off that are dedicated to mental health. “Even more than just giving people a day off, it’s really giving them permission to say it’s OK to take that day off,” he said. (KUT, May 8)  


📖 Vouchers undermine efforts to provide an excellent public education for all. Since the early 2000s, many states have introduced significant voucher programs to provide public financing for private school education. These voucher programs are deeply damaging to efforts to offer an excellent public education for all U.S. children — and this is in fact often the intention of those pushing these programs. (Economic Policy Institute, May 15)