May 26, 2023: A Hostage Situation

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

Friday, May 26, 2023

Is this a joke?

Meme format of

There are three days left in the regular session of the 88th Texas Legislature. And as of this writing, there are $0 dedicated in the proposed final state budget for public school employee raises. 

After more than a month of negotiations in a conference committee of representatives and senators, House Bill 1, the proposed state budget was released Thursday. It contains no increase to the basic allotment for students and no raises for teachers or school staff.

The only person in public education with a line item for a pay raise? Education Commissioner Mike Morath, though the Texas Education Agency was quick to reply that the commissioner would not be accepting any raise.

So where’s the money? It’s being held hostage for a private school voucher. In exchanges on the Senate floor today, senators all but admitted it. House Bill 100, a previously well-intentioned school funding bill that was hijacked by the Senate’s voucher caucus, now sits in a conference committee for negotiations.

But let’s be clear: This isn’t a good-faith negotiation. It’s a hostage situation. A $50 increase to the basic allotment does not make defunding our schools through vouchers palatable. Especially not when we need a $1,000 per-student increase just to match inflation.

For weeks, we worried that this Legislature was going to give public school employees crumbs. Instead, with a state surplus larger than the entire budgets of 24 states, lawmakers want to put strings on those crumbs.

We cannot sit quietly while they do so. This session ends Monday, and that means you can call your representative at the Capitol every day until then. Hopefully you do. The stakes could not be higher.

As it looks right now, the only way we’ll get a basic allotment increase in the state budget in this regular session, apparently, is if House Bill 100 passes. The only way HB 100 should pass is if it’s clean of a voucher.

That’s the assignment for our Legislature this weekend. Will you give it to them? 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • More from this final week of the state Legislature, including updates on retired educators’ COLA and attacks on higher education.
  • Also brewing in the Legislature, indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton’s chickens are finally coming home to roost.
  • We close out AAPI Heritage Month with a spotlight on McAllen AFT’s Jennifer Han, the 2022 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year.
  • With the end of the year comes worries about lost textbooks and technology. Know your rights.

— Legislature

This (Last) Week in the Texas Legislature: More Questions Than Answers 

Missing: investments in public education. Last seen: January 2023. Looks like: a $33 billion surplus. Bill number unknown. Reward if found: teachers and staff in your child's school in August 2023. If spotted, call your representative.

The last full week of the Texas legislative session ended with final decisions on several important pieces of legislation, but going into the session’s final weekend, major bills relating to school finance, private school vouchers, pensions for retired educators, the future of higher education, and more are still undecided.

Public Education: Vouchers Strike Back, School Finance in Limbo

The last week of session started with a surprise hearing by the Senate Education Committee. With less than 24 hours notice, the Senate Education Committee scheduled a hearing on House Bill 100, the school finance bill by Chairman Ken King (R-Canadian). The bill was originally intended to increase school funding and provide raises to teachers, but the Texas Senate hijacked the bill to include a private school voucher.

The rest of the week did not bring much in the way of clarity or stability. We have much more on the state of pay raises and vouchers in our full recap online. There’s just simply too much to explain here.

Higher Education: Academic Freedom Under Attack

This week the Texas House passed SB 17 and SB 18, both by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). SB 17, which would ban Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs on college campuses, received an initial vote of support last Friday and received final approval Monday. SB 18, which would weaken tenure offered by Texas colleges, received an initial vote Monday and received a final approval vote Tuesday.

Several lawmakers in the Texas House, especially members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TXLBC) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), offered a strong defense of DEI and tenure themselves. Legislators offered several amendments to improve them. Unfortunately, few were adopted.

One key amendment offered by Rep. Sheryl Cole (D-Austin), however, was accepted. The amendment expanded the property right definition outlined in the bill. Tenure is fundamentally a property right, so the language outlining what a person’s specific property interest is fundamentally determines the strength of their tenure. The more robust language offered by Cole will go a long way in defending professors’ rights.

Retirement: COLA Headed to the Polls

This week offered a more detailed glimpse into what the TRS COLA bill, SB 10, will look like. SB 10 was approved by the House and Senate in April, but the bill has been the subject of conference committee negotiations since then. Both the House and the Senate passed very different versions of SB 10.

Last week, the Senate finance committee confirmed that SB 10 would be funded by HJR 2, a constitutional amendment that would provide the appropriations to pay for the COLA. Because this spending is included in a constitutional amendment, not in the state budget, voters will have to approve this amendment at the ballot box this November.

The COLA provided by SB 10 is contingent on voters approving HJR 2 at the ballot box this November, but the supplemental check that is offered to certain retirees is not contingent on voter approval.

— Texas Politics

House Committee Unanimously Recommends Paxton Impeachment

This Thursday, the Texas House General Investigating Committee recommended that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached due to a plethora of abuses he is alleged to have committed while in office.

The committee filed a total of 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton, ranging from obstruction of justice to taking bribes. Many of the articles involve Paxton misusing his public office to support the interests of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and prominent donor to Paxton’s campaigns.

In addition to the illegal activity laid out in the articles of impeachment, Paxton has also been under a separate federal indictment for the past 8 years. In 2015, a grand jury indicted Paxton on securities fraud allegedly committed while he was a member of the House of Representatives.

Apart from his legal troubles, Paxton has spent his tenure as attorney general attacking public schools, undermining the integrity of our state’s elections, and denying basic rights to LGBTQIA+ Texans. Paxton moved to ban mask mandates by local government entities, including public schools, at the height of the pandemic in 2020. He has also joined lawsuits opposing student debt relief at the federal level.

— AAPI Heritage Month

Texas AFT Celebrates Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the contributions and achievements of individuals from these communities in all aspects of society. It’s also a chance to educate about the discrimination and racism faced by these communities, historically and still today.

Each week of AAPI Heritage Month, Texas AFT has highlighted a Texan from our communities and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated by our local leaders.

We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world.

Jennifer Han

Nominated by Clarissa Riojas, vice president of McAllen AFT

As a student, Jennifer Han discovered her calling thanks to inspiration from her teachers in McAllen ISD. From as early as childhood, she knew that she wanted to make a difference through education.

Now, she does so as a fourth-grade teacher at Seguin Elementary in McAllen ISD.

That she makes a difference for her students and her community has never been in doubt. But last year, Han received official validation of that fact.

In 2022, Han was named Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Know Your Rights on Lost or Stolen Textbooks and Technology

It’s the end of the year. Do your students know where their textbooks, Chromebooks, and calculators are? As you wrap up the year, know your rights if you or your students have had textbooks or instructional technology materials lost or stolen. Read our guide online.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 A year after Uvalde: What’s changed in school safety and why some still feel powerless. Heated debates on school safety have spread like wildfire. But for the tens of thousands of Texans who teach, learn and work at public schools every day, some say nothing has really changed. (Dallas Morning News, May 24)

📺 Bilingual teacher shortage compounded by burnout, non-education competition. As Texas’ population continues to soar, so, too has its non-English speaking student population. But that spike, paired with an ongoing exodus of teachers from the industry, has led to some students not receiving the level of individualized teaching they need. (KXAN, May 21) 

📖 UT-Austin tried to hire a game theorist for its new free-enterprise think tank. He turned down the job because of fights over tenure. Keith Schnackender, a tenured professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was offered a position at the Civitas Institute, the new center at the University of Texas at Austin that focuses on “individual rights and civic virtue, constitutionalism, and free enterprise and markets.” But last week, Schnackender turned down Texas’ top research university, citing the political climate in Texas. (Texas Tribune, May 21)