May 24, 2024: Never Back, Always Forward

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

Friday, May 24, 2024

Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson, AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus, and Texas AFT President Zeph Capo at a fundraiser for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) at HFT’s office on Wednesday.  

Never Back, Always Forward 

It was a remarkable week for organized labor in Texas, though you may not have realized it.


In Fort Worth, after three months on the picket line, members at the Molson Coors brewery voted to ratify a new three-year contract that secures wage increases, improves benefits, and restores retiree health care. 

And Houston, still recovering from the recent storm, played host to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) 53rd International Convention. The theme for the convention: “Never Back, Always Forward: Hate Cannot Erase Us. 

It’s a particularly timely message for Texas, where LGBTQ+ Texans are under assault from state elected officials and their own school districts, and where diversity, equity, and inclusion are all now, seemingly, four-letter words 

It’s a proud moment for Texas to play host to our national and international union siblings from the CBTU, as well as from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus serves as LCLAA national president, and we were grateful to host her this week and hear her inspiring speech at the CBTU convention, reminding us of the importance of solidarity in challenging times.  

In this week’s Hotline:  

  • Fact check: Is everyone except Gov. Abbott to blame for public schools’ budget crises? 
  • Today marks the second anniversary of the mass shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary. We bear witness and renew our demands for action on gun violence. 
  • A new report shows Texas is No. 1 … in food insecurity.  
  • Help us welcome two new local unions to the Texas AFT family in Brownsville and Spring ISDs! 

— Funding

Image reads: school districts like mine are slashing budgets, jobs and it's governor abbot's fault.

Fact Check: Is everyone except Gov. Abbott to blame for public schools’ budget crises? 

As the 2023-2024 academic year comes to a close, Texas public schools find themselves struggling with severe budget deficits that are jeopardizing their ability to deliver high-quality education to the state’s 5.5 million public school students.  


In recent remarks quoted on Twitter/X, Gov. Greg Abbott sought to distance himself from this crisis as he faces an increasing amount of criticism from across the state and on both sides of the aisle, claiming, “You’ll be shocked to hear this, but it’s not me that’s responsible for this.” 


However, a deeper analysis reveals that Abbott’s attempt to sidestep responsibility is a deliberate distortion of reality. The truth is the governor was primarily responsible for the failure to pass additional school funding during the 88th Legislature due to his insistence that any funding increase be tied to a universal voucher program that would ultimately siphon resources away from public schools. 

— 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. 

— Gun Safety

Fortified Campuses, Fearful Classrooms: Texas Schools Two Years After Uvalde 

Two years have passed since the horrific shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were tragically killed by a lone 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 as hundreds of law enforcement officers waited nearby. 


As we mark this somber anniversary, it is disheartening that gun violence remains a pressing concern in Texas schools, with recent shootings in North Texas serving as stark reminders of the urgent need for meaningful action. 


According to the 2024 Texas AFT membership survey, a staggering 82% of K-12 educators worry about the possibility of gun violence on their campuses, making it their top priority out of 11 community and social justice issues. This fear is grounded in a grim reality, as Everytown for Gun Safety has found there have been over 500 incidents of gunfire on school grounds nationwide in just the past three years. 


In discussing the anniversary, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo emphasized schools’ fundamental responsibility for providing a safe learning environment for students and educators, the Texas Legislature’s central role in supporting this goal, and how we are currently failing to ensure that safe environment.  


“Every day, Texans entrust their children to our schools,” Capo said. They’re supposed to be learning, growing, and unleashing their potential. But instead, they face the trauma of active shooter drills and the very real fear of becoming the next victim of a school shooting. It’s time for our leaders to stop playing the blame game and prioritize the safety of our children and educators over politics. 

— Event

Texas AFT has begun drafting its agenda for the 89th Legislature in 2025, and this time, we’re bringing an Educator’s Bill of Rights to lawmakers in Austin. At a time when the very idea of public education is under attack by some state leaders, Texas AFT is determined to center the perspectives of our students, our teachers, our school employees, and our communities. This past week, both Corpus Christi AFT and Education Round Rock hosted workshops to give their members an opportunity to weigh in and help develop our Educator’s Bill of Rights.  

But we want to hear from our members across the state! Next Thursday, join us on Zoom for a virtual Educator’s Bill of Rights drafting workshop and make sure our agenda is your agenda too. Register online. 

— Union Updates

Empowering Educators: Spring AFT, Brownsville Educators Stand Together Officially Charter as Texas AFT Local Unions 

Educators in Spring ISD and Brownsville ISD are celebrating a significant milestone, as Texas AFT organizing committees in each district officially voted to charter as full local unions. In the past week, both Spring AFT and Brownsville Educators Stand Together (BEST AFT) voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Texas AFT, and the AFL-CIO. This move marks a new chapter in their ongoing efforts to advocate for better working conditions and schools funded to thrive.  


BEST AFT, and Spring AFT have worked tirelessly for years to support the rights and well-being of their members. Their organizing efforts have focused on crucial issues, such as class sizes, employee pay, school funding, mental health support, and professional respect. The formal affiliation with AFT and Texas AFT amplifies their voice and strengthens their ability to effect positive change, locally and statewide. 

— Food Insecurity

Texas Ranks First in Nation for Food Insecurity 

Screenshot of page in report.

Sometimes a free lunch at school may be the only meal a child eats in a day. In Thrive Together, Texas AFT’s latest report, we discuss the importance of free meals for students & the vital work of our school nutrition employees.

In a new report from the “Map the Meal” study from Feeding America, Texas has ranked No. 1 in the country for food insecurity. Furthermore, “the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are disproportionately rural.

Rural counties (those outside of major metropolitan areas) make up 62% of all counties but represent 87% of counties with food insecurity rates in the top 10%.” This is a huge issue, especially in Texas, as around 15% of our state (or 3.8 million people) live in rural areas. 


Children make up 40% of those in need, and the issue is further perpetuated because “most people experiencing food insecurity do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and rely on help from local food banks to make ends meet.” 

— Privatization

Action image.

Despite mounting charter school scandals, the charter lobby is aggressively pushing Congress to increase federal Charter School Programs (CSP) funding. Unhappy that the Biden Administration’s budget calls for a decrease in CSP funding, this well-funded lobby is pushing back once again, asking for more federal tax dollars to expand charter schools. That potentially means less funding for important programs that really work, like community schools with wraparound services proven to help students and families.  

Recommended Reading

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

📖  Commentary: Moving beyond antisemitism to Middle East peace. As a Jewish American and community college professor, David Albert, president of Austin Community College AFT, writes, To the extent we can help the situation in this country, it is by listening to each other and hearing the pain, suffering, fear, anger and the trauma of both peoples. Sadly, Texas Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, did not help the situation when he convened a hearing premised on only hearing about antisemitism, not considering the equally painful bigotry of Islamophobia.(San Antonio Express-News, May 20) 


📖 Exclusive: Texas schools illegally suspended thousands of homeless students — and nobody stopped them Thousands of homeless students have been banned from school despite the passage of a 2019 state law that made it illegal for school administrators to kick Texas’ most vulnerable children off campus for most offenses, a Houston Landing investigation shows. School employees in hundreds of districts have illegally suspended students over the past five years, according to data obtained from the Texas Education Agency, denying students access to the food, shelter and education often found only on campus. (Houston Landing, May 23)  


📖 What does a school board do? An Austin ISD trustee explains. Even before Candace Hunter was elected to serve on the Austin ISD school board, she was no stranger to the meetings. The former Austin ISD history teacher had long been involved in the district. Her kids attended AISD schools. She even participated in a podcast to try to help people understand how the school board works. “It was so funny, I had a friend say, you’re kind of already on the school board, you just can’t vote,” she said. (KUT, May 20)