May 22: : On-site Summer School?; Dire budget outlook signals need to protect funding; Socorro AFT wins salary increase; New student loan benefit

You can find all news, updates and resources addressing COVID-19 here on our website.


Summer school guidelines likely a means for districts to test the waters for opening campuses, but students can’t be forced to attend in person

The governor on Monday announced new and modified orders that allowed for students and staff to work on-site at campuses for summer school, and TEA simultaneously released detailed guidelines outlining safety, sanitation, and academic processes to follow. While districts retain a lot of discretion in local decisions—as has been the case for most pandemic-related issues—one chief rule from TEA stands out:

“Summer school attendance in person at school must be optional for students. Students who are mandated by their school system to attend summer school as a condition of promotion to the next grade or to otherwise obtain course credit may not be required to attend in-person but would still need to satisfy district academic and/or participation requirements virtually if they do not attend in person.”

Whether districts decide to have on-site instruction for summer school will vary to a large degree among the 1,100 districts across the state, with some likely to test the waters of returning to campuses with a combination of remote and on-site instruction, social distancing, and sanitation policies. For many local officials, it will be an opportunity to think through and possibly experiment with strategies for the next school year.

The American Federation of Teachers already had published detailed guidelines for access to schools and conducting instruction—what it calls a “flexible blueprint” developed by teachers and public health workers.

The specter of returning to campuses will revive a lot of the crucial issues around whether health-compromised school employees and students should be forced back to on-site work. We encourage you to keep your safety a top priority and read our initial guides on these decisions on our COVID-19 resource pages here:

Related to openings is decision-making over calendars and options for intersessional and year-round schooling presented by the Texas Education Agency. We covered that issue in last week’s news, and followed up with a primer on how year-round schooling works, including some mistaken beliefs about it, in a #TxEd in the Media column.

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State and local revenue declines cast a dark shadow over the future of school funding

Gov's Letter

But hints of sunshine give us reason to fight to Fund Our Future

There’s no getting around the doomy picture painted recently by economists and state officials tracking the state and local budget pictures for now and next year. Wonks who follow the money flow are predicting a state budget deficit in the billions and possibly the worst in history, and a hole dramatically deeper than the Great Depression. The gloom, of course, is fueled by the massive unemployment rate and related loss of revenue from low-spending levels and business closings, since Texas relies heavily on sales tax and oil and gas revenue.

With that backdrop, Gov. Greg Abbott at the helm of the Legislative Budget Board directed all agencies to alter their budget for the upcoming year (September through August 2021) with 5% reductions in planned expenditures.

Exempted from the edict are certain agencies that are obviously crucial during the pandemic, e.g., the Texas Department of Health Services and the Texas Workforce Commission. The Permanent School Fund, which provides a majority of public education funding from the state’s piece of the pie, also is exempt from these provisions, but that by no means indicates that our schools won’t be protected from cuts down the road. Public education funding is a massive portion of the state budget, hovering around two-thirds of all expenditures. And with some 80,000 students entering Texas schools each year, not funding this enrollment growth alone in the coming years is a gargantuan cut in itself. Coupling that possibility with local property tax revenue declines and you have a recipe for deep cuts, possible layoffs, and larger class sizes.

Now that you’ve heard the gloom, here are some reasons to keep fighting for our students. Many state elected officials have openly declared that our investments in public education need to continue. School funding is already set through the next school year, so most of the significant decisions by local districts on cuts would be made next spring. And the Legislature has more than $8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund to spend on avoiding some cuts.

Unfortunately, the governor stressed for higher education institutions to “engage in prudent fiscal management efforts” (as if they weren’t already), and our public and colleges also fall under the 5% budget reduction mandate. Higher education has taken the brunt of the cuts in the past, so we need to focus our attention on maintaining our investments in higher ed as well.

A $3 trillion aid package passed by the U.S. House last week would provide significant relief to states, local governments, and school districts. However, Senate Republicans have put consideration of the measure on hold.

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Fanfare over teacher salary fades as districts prepare new budgets, but our local unions are pushing to keep the promise for higher school employee wages

Socorro AFT RaiseWhile the House Bill 3 school finance law from last session boosted school employee salaries to a great degree for many districts, one of the bill’s faults was that these raises were by no means equal statewide. How districts are structuring their budgets for next year is all over the map, with some wanting to continue the promised investments now while they can, and others slamming their coffers closed. Since there still is vast inequity in funding from district to district, the local decisions will vary.

Regardless, having a local union fighting for our members is a key to ensuring investments continue, as evidenced by our Socorro AFT union, which just secured a 2% pay raise and a $1,000 stipend for employees next year.

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Member-only benefit: Let Summer guide you through student debt relief

 

Summer Debt Relief
We know how difficult it is to access and keep on top of all the debt relief options that are available to student loan borrowers. That’s why we’re excited to introduce Summer—AFT’s Summer benefit allows members to enroll for free in a web-based student loan management platform (www.meetsummer.org/aft). It helps our members enroll in and manage the paperwork for income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, find other debt relief programs, and tailor student loan repayment options to their individual needs. Thousands of AFT members have already joined and, on average, are reducing their payments by about $170 a month and saving more than $57,769 over the life of their loans.

You can find Summer by creating and logging in to your AFT Member Benefits account. Not a member? You can join Texas AFT and its local affiliate unions here. Have a family member or friend who might benefit from Summer’s online tools? By becoming an AFT associate member, they’ll be able to access Summer for free.

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Briefs

Webinar on policy for Texas gun owners and other concerned about gun safety

On May 28th at 11:30m a.m., the groups Texas Gun Owners for Safety and Giffords will be holding a webinar entitled, “Stats & Facts on Texas Gun Violence.”

Hosted by David Chipman, a former ATF officer and Senior Policy Advisor at Giffords, the webinar will provide key information about mass shootings in Texas and what laws could have prevented them. You can RSVP for the webinar here.

Check out our free Wellness Wednesday sessions

Wellness Wednesday
Texas AFT’s Bridges Institute for Professional Development invites you to attend our free six-part series on meditation and mindfulness. Wednesday sessions will be broadcast from 6-7 p.m. via Zoom and live on Facebook.com/TexasAFT.  You can watch previous recordings here. Coming next week on May 27 is “Compassion: Mindfulness and Communications.” Find more info and register here.


 
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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

 


 

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