Nov. 11, 2022: Recapping the Election; TEA Proposes Safety Changes
Publish Date: November 15, 2022 9:53 am Author: Texas AFT
Texas AFT offices are closed Friday, Nov. 11, to commemorate Veterans Day. Today, we honor all who have served in the U.S. armed forces. If you are looking for ways to teach your students the true meaning of the holiday, take a look at Share My Lesson’s free lesson plans and resources.
Our Recap of This Week’s Election
Some members may be pleased about the results of yesterday’s election, and others are frustrated. To be sure, yesterday’s election could have gone better for public education. But it also could have gone a lot worse. At this time, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and Congress is still outstanding, but in Texas, we face new realities.
Do we wish we’d woken up Wednesday morning with a slate of elected officials allied with school employees? More than anything, but we still have hope.
Nationally, in an election in which democracy, freedom, public education, public safety, and economic security were on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly rejected extremist fear-mongering. Results across the country show a deep love for our public schools and a commitment to investing in them.
In Texas, our endorsed candidates put up a heck of a fight, won some races, and came up short in others. We are happy to report plenty of bright spots for public education in Texas and for our union’s work, including:
Education Austin and its members spent weekend after weekend block walking and so many nights phone banking for their endorsed candidates for the Austin ISD school board — and it paid off. All five of Education Austin’s endorsed candidates won, and the board now includes five former teachers and three former union members. Not to mention, the district passed three bond measures with their support.
Brownsville Educators Stand Together (BEST AFT) did a tremendous amount of work, along with many other members in the Rio Grande Valley, to elect Morgan LaMantia to the Texas Senate. She replaces a senator in SD 27 who was vehemently pro-charter school expansion, and we are glad to have a new ally in that fight.
Finally, we send congratulations and warmest wishes to Janie Lopez, who was elected last night to represent HD 37 in the Rio Grande Valley. Lopez is a former AFT member, teacher, and school counselor, and she cares deeply about our public schools.
Another bright spot is that our members showed up.
While we’re still waiting on Election Day results, we know at least 41% of Texas AFT members voted early in this election — that’s double the rest of the early vote turnout in Texas!
In this election cycle, Texas AFT members sent 221,000 texts to fellow school employees and Texas voters.
You made 17,000 phone calls to remind them to vote too
Our work is far from over, and now our attention must turn to the next legislative session, which starts in January. We have to send a message to legislators new and old: if you don’t respect us, you can expect us.
Join our Texas AFT team on Wednesday, Nov. 16, to talk about what this election means for the legislative session and what we’re fighting for. All around this country, working people are coming together in solidarity, even in places that have never been unionized before, demanding a voice and a seat at the table. We know that when we stand together, with one strong voice, we win!
TEA Proposes New Rules to Address Student Safety
Last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) proposed a new rule intended to increase school safety. TEA announced this sweeping new rule roughly five months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.
In the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, Gov. Greg Abbott specifically charged TEA Commissioner Mike Morath with overhauling safety rules for public schools. Abbott pushed for these security changes in lieu of calling a special session to enact commonsense gun reforms like raising the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon or passing red flag laws.
The proposed rule would establish a number of new safety requirements. Under the rule, schools would be required to install panic alarms, two-way emergency radios, automatic locks on all exterior doors, and bulletproof glass in all ground floor windows. The rule would also require schools to conduct weekly maintenance checks of exterior door locks and twice-yearly maintenance checks of the rest of schools’ safety infrastructure.
A week before TEA announced the new rule, state leadership transferred $400 million from the Foundation School Program to fund school safety initiatives. In the next few weeks, TEA will send a grant application to districts so they can apply for funds to cover the cost of implementing the rule. Districts will receive grants based on their student enrollment, with the smallest districts receiving a minimum of $200,000.
While these changes are intended to address many of the issues that contributed to the Uvalde tragedy, such as faulty radios and door locks, many advocates and parents of Uvalde victims say that these changes avoid the root issue: guns. Without addressing the ease of access to firearms in this state, it is unclear whether these changes will have any effect on preventing another tragedy.
Texas AFT Sends Letter to State Leaders, Thanking Them for Safety Investments
It is no secret that our union has often disagreed with state leaders over the past several years when it comes to public education policy. While our members will speak truth to power, we also believe in expressing appreciation when it’s due.
In the letter — addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Rep. Dade Phelan, Sen. Joan Huffman, and Rep. Dr. Greg Bonnen — Capo said he hoped this funding was “just the beginning of much-needed investments in our public schools.”
Furthermore, he requested the leaders add stipulations to this funding before it’s distributed by the Texas Education Agency that would require districts to listen to stakeholder input on how it should be spent.
“In conversations with Texas educators this summer, we heard repeatedly that teachers are concerned by how little voice they have in state and local decision-making about public education,” Capo said. “Our schools are their workplaces, and they deserve to have a voice at the table in any decisions about how best to secure those workplaces.”
Collin College Professor Reinstated After Free-Speech Lawsuit
Suzanne Jones, an education professor at Collin College, will return to the North Texas community college in January under a two-year contract and with a new salary. Jones was terminated last year due to her comments and actions on political issues, including criticizing Collin College’s response to COVID-19 on Facebook and signing an open letter that called for the removal of Confederate memorials from public places in Dallas.
Jones filed a lawsuit in September 2021 accusing the community college of violating her First Amendment right to free speech, as well as claiming the college fired her due to her critical comments and her work to start a campus chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide higher education faculty union. Collin College agreed to pay a large settlement in response to Jones’ lawsuit, under which the college will pay Jones $230,000 as part of a two-year contract and compensate her for $145,000 in legal fees. Jones’ new salary is a higher sum than her prior salary, which was around $66,000. Jones is restricted to online classes under the contract and must resign once it is up in 2025.
Dr. John Burghduff, president of the AFT local union at Houston-area Lone Star College, responded to Jones’ termination by noting the need for more higher ed faculty and staff to unionize.
“Faculty at community colleges have the same mandate as professors at universities to ask hard questions, to promote critical thinking, and to advocate for the well-being of the students they serve,” Burghduff said. “They must have the same protections of academic freedom and freedom of speech that are expected for all higher education faculty. This story illustrates why community college employees should organize so that they can stand together as a union rather than try to fight off heavy handed administrators on their own.”
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