Texas AFT thanks teachers for their hard work and dedication,
especially during this challenging school year.
Here’s a popular list of freebies and discounts to celebrate teachers this week.
State leadership finally releases federal funds to schools
Legislators begin work hammering out differences in House and Senate budgets
Our efforts to #StopTheSwap are working. Gov. Abbott announced Wednesday that $11.2 billion in federal aid for Texas schools will start flowing directly to districts.
“Finally, districts are able to start the process for getting federal aid to our classrooms,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “This is a positive first step in getting the funds our schools need. It’s unfortunate that it took nearly two months of pushing the governor to get to this point. Many districts that have been contemplating cuts related to pandemic expenses can now implement plans to help students catch up.”
In a new release the governor said the additional federal funds—about $6.7 billion—from the federal aid packages will be available after the Texas Education Agency works with the U.S. Department of Education on requirements tied to the funding. The release noted that TEA will resolve those issues by the end of the legislative session on May 31. TEA also published guidance for districts to access funds, as well as a list of districts with the amount of money designated to each.
“It’s clear that our legislators were listening to our calls to release the funds,” Capo said. “Texas House members rallied behind a state budget amendment by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez last week requiring the state to release the funds and prohibiting it from using the money for existing budget needs. Rodriguez’s amendment and overwhelming support from legislators spurred the governor to take action.”
The morning after the governor’s announcement, budget conferees met to begin reconciling differences in the Senate and House versions of the budget.
Senate conferees include: Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)) Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville). Notably, they are all Republicans and no members of color were appointed.
House conferees include: Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), Terry Wilson (R-Georgetown), Armando Walle (D-Houston).
Thanks to all who helped elect friends of public education
Texas AFT members voted in school board and municipal elections across Texas last week. Educators were able to power a number of endorsed school board candidates to victory. In a marquee set of races in El Paso ISD, members were able to secure a favorable majority on their local school board by defeating pro-privatization forces that had dumped tens of thousands of dollars into their efforts. El Paso AFT-supported candidates Leah Hanany and Josh Acevedo won their races. In addition, a runoff will be held in June with another AFT-endorsed candidate. Socorro AFT members were able to defend two incumbents while losing two other friendly incumbents by razor thin margins.
Members in San Antonio and Pasadena also scored important victories and added or defended pro-educator voices to their local school boards. Thank you to the thousands of members that voted, in addition to the many members that wrote postcards, made phone calls, and block walked for our candidates. If you support our work at the local level, consider making a donation to our educator PAC.
Bills empowering state takeover of districts also removes TEA investigatory powers over charters
Bad bills giving more authority to the commissioner of education to take over local school districts also include language that would remove the ability of TEA to investigate charter schools. Currently, TEA can investigate and take action against school districts and charters for a wide variety of issues, including civil rights violations, financial mismanagement, and violations of state law. Language in SB 1365 and HB 3270 would remove that investigatory oversight of charters.
In 2019, TEA tried to take over Houston ISD, but its efforts were stopped by the courts. These bills would circumvent our local judges and courts and put much of the power for state takeovers in the hands of Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The addition of the language on charter schools make these bills even more egregious. SB 1365 could be heard on the Senate floor soon, so act now to send your state senator an online letter opposing the bill!
Charter school founder with ties to Texas charged with stealing $218,000
A charter school executive charged this week for stealing $218,000 from his network of nonprofits running charter schools has a connection to Texas—the takeover of a San Antonio public school by Democracy Prep.
Seth Andrew—a Democracy Prep founder—faces charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making a false statement to a bank when he allegedly used the charter school network’s money to leverage a lower interest loan on a $2.4 million Manhattan apartment. He was released on a $500,000 bond.
“The tangled financial web woven by these charter chains creates an atmosphere ripe for corruption,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “Who knows how many other charter operators are gaming the system for personal profit, or worse: actually stealing large sums of money.”
Public school champions stand up to charter privateers in contentious hearing
Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children
testifies before the House Public Education Committee.
SB 28 (Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston) came out of the Senate and landed with a thud in the House Public Education Committee last week for a hearing. Several committee members pushed back against a bill that would spur rapid charter school expansion by taking away authority from the State Board of Education and local municipalities to regulate charters.
Rep. Alma Allen, a former SBOE member, questioned why the bill makes it easier for charter schools to show up in a small town or city overnight, since charters not giving proper notice could force districts to make budget cuts for academics, programs, and staffing levels. Reps. Terry Meza and Keith Bell raised the point that giving the power to approve charter campuses solely to the unelected commissioner of education could have untold negative consequences for traditional ISDs.
Rep. Mary Gonzalez asked why SB 28 was fixing a problem that didn’t exist, because the SBOE has only vetoed seven charter applications out of 41 since the Legislature gave it that authority in 2013. However, since 2010, the unelected commissioner of education has approved 798 new charter school campuses through expansion amendments. The bill was left pending in committee.
If you haven’t written a letter to your local legislators urging them to vote against SB 28, please do so here!
Crown Act gets hearing and continued support from Texas AFT
Policies that explicitly ban Black hairstyles from schools and workplaces continue to disproportionately target and affect Black people across Texas, and that’s wrong. HB 392 (Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland), dubbed the the CROWN Act, would prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyles and hair texture. Texas AFT supports this bill that would stop discriminatory school policies. The bill passed out of the House State Affairs Committee Thursday.
Bills prohibiting teaching and discussion of anything ‘controversial’ in school move forward
On Tuesday, the Texas House will hear HB 3979 by Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands. This bill would impact civics instruction for public school students and instruction policies in public schools. Texas AFT agrees that civics is an important topic and that students should be given more opportunities to learn civics in schools. But Toth’s bill is a solution in search of a problem and would make it difficult for educators to discuss important, timely concepts that intersect with our political system, such as race, voting rights, gender equality, and LBGQT rights as related to past or current events.
In the past few months, nine states, including Texas (Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and West Virginia), all filed legislation with language very similar to an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump to ban diversity training for federal workers. This bill and the others like it would cause a chilling effect on educators in fear of the vague warnings against teaching issues that are “racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The language in the bill about what may be considered controversial is broad, and determining if a teacher has violated this part of the statute is subjective. For example, educators could be subject to disciplinary action if they discuss concepts such as implicit bias or critical race theory, which has been held up as a model best practice in the field.
A companion bill, SB 2202 (Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe), which we opposed, passed the Senate last week.
Legislation passing this week
- HB 2557 (Glenn Rogers, R-Graford) would allow school security volunteers in certain small counties to carry a gun and exempt them from most liability. Texas AFT opposed this bill out of concern that it would encourage more guns on campus and removes liability for volunteers in most situations.
- HB 332 (James Talarico, D-Round Rock) would allow the compensatory education allotment to be used for programs that build certain social and emotional skills. We are pleased to see this bill passed to engrossment.
- HB 3643 (Ken King, R-Canadian) would create the Texas Commission on Virtual Education. The commission would develop recommendations on the funding and delivery of virtual education. While the pandemic has shown the need to address virtual education issues, a commission would be better suited to evaluating what is effective, rather than legislating changes in the current session.Texas AFT supported this legislation. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.
- HB 1468 (Keith Bell, R-Forney) would create curriculum and eligibility requirements for school districts to implement their own local remote learning programs to qualify for state funding. The bill passed last week with two amendments, including a Sunset provision by Rep. Ken King. Texas AFT continues to work on this legislation to address concerns and protections for teachers.
- SB 1646 (Charles Perry, R-Lubbock) is yet another bill that would allow state-sanctioned discrimination against transgender children. This bill would state that the administering or consenting to a child’s use of puberty suppression treatment, hormones, or surgery for the purpose of gender transitioning would be considered “child abuse,” punishable as a crime. Although several state and national medical associations opposed the bill along with the LGBTQ community and their allies, the bill still passed on a 18-12 vote on the Ssenate floor. Previously, the Senate passed SB 29, also by Perry, which would discriminate against transgender students by forcing them to “compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth.” The House version of the bill, HB 4042 (Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant), was left pending in committee with reports that there were not enough votes for passage.
- Texas AFT joined the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) and other Texas unions to oppose SB 321 (Joan Huffman, R-Houston), which includes a switch in state employee pensions from defined benefit plans to cash balance plans. In a joint letter to legislators, the union stressed that the stability of defined benefit pensions is needed to offset the lower salaries paid to state employees.
- HR 333 (Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress) removed the mask mandate on the House floor and during committee hearings.
- A resolution supporting the repeal of two Social Security offsets that significantly impact benefits of many educators and other public employees—the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)—is moving forward in the Legislature. SCR 17 (Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola) passed the Senate and then the Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee last week.Texas AFT has long pushed for the U.S. Congress to repeal these offsets. The current version of the Social Security Fairness Act (HR 82) has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. If passed, the bill would ensure Social Security fairness for future public employee retirees and provide current retirees impacted by the WEP with a rebate of $150 per month for life.
Good Bill of the Week
Texas AFT is tracking and watching bills that support the needs of our teachers, students, and school support staff. HB 3871 by Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) calls for the development and implementation of the Live Well Texas program to expand health insurance coverage to some individuals who might not qualify for current Medicaid insurance. The funding for this program will be matched by the Affordable Care Act. This legislation would help bring health insurance to millions more Texas who struggle to access affordable health insurance in the state.
National teachers union president fights back against the influence of privatizers, for-profit school PACs, in local school board races
AFT President Randi Weingarten went to El Paso last week to join Texas activists in their efforts to get out the vote in the lead-up to the local school board election Saturday.
At a press conference, Weingarten spoke to the threats to public education in the El Paso and Socorro school districts. Weingarten—who has seen the damage privatization of our schools causes nationwide—described why school board races are crucial for keeping our schools truly public.
“Every child in Texas, and throughout America, deserves the freedom to thrive, which is why it’s so important that we elect the right people to help see this community through its renaissance, rebuilding, and recovery,” Weingarten said. “That starts with the local school board. Schools need to be run by locally elected officials who represent and know their communities.”
Afterward, Weingarten led an Early Vote Member March to a polling place with local union members to rally support for the candidates.
AFT President Weingarten lauds Biden’s initiatives in first 100 days
“After 100 days in office, it’s clear President Biden has followed up on his promises to meet the needs of all Americans—regardless of who they voted for—with decisive action. The list of achievements are noteworthy: from shattering the 200 million vaccine goal, to getting the majority of schools reopened for safe in-person learning, to securing the landmark American Rescue Plan and proposing the companion American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. These achievements lay the groundwork for comprehensive, sustainable efforts to rebuild our economy, make our schools and communities safe, and meet the needs of people who go to work and care for families.”
Texas 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.
Subscribe to the Legislative Hotline and other e-news here.