Nov. 17, 2023: We won’t take the bait

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

Friday, Nov. 17, 2023

Houston I-S-D parents, educators, and community members speak to the press at the Texas Capitol after their testimony at the State Board of Education.

Houston ISD parents, educators, and community members speak to the press at the Texas Capitol after their testimony at the State Board of Education.

Is this parental empowerment?

Vouchers are dead in Texas. Again. (More on that in a second.) While their proponents claim vouchers are tools to “empower” parents, the Texas House saw HB 1 for what it was: a scam to defund public schools. 

Further evidence of how little this state leadership actually cares about “empowering” parents was on display in the State Board of Education’s November meeting. Houston parents, community members, and educators — including Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) and Houston Educational Support Personnel (HESP) members — visited the boardroom to testify during Commissioner Mike Morath’s standing comment item to the SBOE.

The topic? The disastrous consequences already being felt by teachers, students, and families of TEA’s hostile takeover of the state’s largest school district. They spoke of error-riddled canned curriculum, counterproductive teaching directives, and negligence in providing support for special education services. 

Morath was not in the room to hear them, having left the meeting after his comments and refusing to address questions about the Houston ISD takeover. 

“I understand that you have a job to do and understand these concerns may not fall under your purview, but you have to understand that this is what we felt like we had to do to get an audience with Mike Morath, who’s not even here,” said HISD parent Lauren Simmons to SBOE members. “He’s never once came and addressed our community about this takeover and now we are stuck, we have lost our democratic ability to make decisions about our children’s education and this is what we had to do: get on a bus at 5 a.m. from Houston.”

Parents traveling hundreds of miles, begging to be heard by an appointed state official months after their voice in their children’s education was taken from them — is this the parental empowerment the governor is so keen on?

— Texas Legislature

Voucher Are Dead in the 4th Special Session

Image reads: News from the special 88th legislative session.

Despite the addition of popular policy “carrots” to HB 1 and enormous pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott, we stopped vouchers in their tracks yet again today (Friday, Nov. 17). This victory was won on an 84-63 bipartisan vote in support of an amendment by state Rep. John Raney (R-College Station), which removed the Educational Savings Account (ESA) provision from the omnibus legislation.

At the end of the debate, HB 1 was committed back to the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment instead of holding a full debate and an up-or-down vote on the rest of the bill.

With this vote, vouchers are effectively dead in the fourth special session as the House is highly unlikely to hold a hearing on the Senate’s version of voucher legislation after the failure of HB 1.

Abbott recently stated that if legislators do not pass voucher legislation in the current fourth special session, he will call the Texas Legislature back for as many legislative sessions as it takes for something to be sent to his desk.

No matter how many special sessions it takes, we have and will continue to stand united with our allies to defeat vouchers. There is no deal on vouchers, no matter what. With this latest victory, we are more confident now than ever that public education supporters have the upper hand over the forces pushing privatization in Texas.

Thank you to the thousands of Texas AFT members who have called and emailed their legislators to demand that they protect our public schools and reject vouchers. Your continued efforts make these victories possible.

— State Board of Education

SBOE Recap: Instructional Materials Work Continues Apace

Image reads: eyes on the board, with the state board of education logo.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting began this week with the adoption of science instructional materials. There was a steady drumbeat of proposed textbooks removed from the recommended list. Some were removed for valid reasons like lack of standards coverage, but far more were removed because they lacked “suitability,” according to nebulous criteria. When all was said and done, only a handful of materials (out of nearly 300) submitted for review were judged to be adoptable by the SBOE. 

By law, districts are not limited to the state adopted materials list when determining which textbooks to buy for their campuses. That the board saw fit to reject such a high volume of materials under the current process, however, does not bode well for textbooks to be considered under the new and much more stringent instructional materials review and adoption (IMRA) process established by House Bill 1605. 

Read more about the board’s plan to implement HB 1605, testimony for a proposed American Indian/Native Studies course, and what to expect next in our full recap online.

— PSRP Rights

Paraprofessionals & Education Support Staff Bill of Rights Introduced in U.S. Senate

Senator Ed Markey with paraprofessionals and support staff at the announcement of the P-S-R-P Bill of Rights.

Sen. Ed Markey with paraprofessionals and support staff at the announcement of the PSRP Bill of Rights. Photo courtesy of AFT.

On Monday, Nov. 6, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) & Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in introducing a Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights. The resolution, which aims to provide relief and support to education workers in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuation of stagnant wages, has gained support from progressives in the House and Senate.

In unveiling the resolution, Markey noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic, 331,000 school staff have left their jobs. This exodus of educational aides and support staff members is largely due to low wages and long hours, something we documented in Texas in our 2022 report The Lost Decade.. As we know, our schools do not run without paraprofessionals and support staff, something that Markey acknowledged last week.

“We have asked them to educate, feed, transport, and support students in their path to grow, learn, and thrive – all without the pay, benefits, and job security they deserve,” Markey said. “My Paraprofessionals and Education Support Staff Bill of Rights is a call for action to provide these workers with the dignity, respect, and recognition that they have long deserved. Well-paid, well-treated, union staff make stronger schools and stronger communities.”

— LGBTQ+ Rights

Katy ISD Gender Policy Has Led to Outing 19 Students Since August

A little over two months ago, Katy ISD passed one of the most extreme gender policies we’ve seen in Texas, effectively requiring campus personnel to “out” students. At the time, it raised eyebrows, and now we are beginning to see the ramifications for students and educators. 

According to reports from Houston Landing, since August, the district has sent 19 notifications to parents informing them that their child either identified themselves as transgender or requested different names or pronouns be used at school. 

As the number of notifications climbs, advocates worry about the repercussions. The policy has created a landscape of uncertainty for Katy ISD LGBTQIA+ youth, challenging their sense of safety and belonging within their own schools and pinning school teachers against their students. 

“This policy, in particular, has a distinct and really dangerous set of harms,” said Chloe Kempf, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, in an interview with Houston Landing columnist Maggie Gordon. “We know that outing children against their will places them at risk of rejection, abuse in the home, and places them at an elevated risk of homelessness.”

— Social Security

2024 Social Security COLA set at 3.2%

Last month, the Social Security Administration announced that Social Security benefits will increase by 3.2% in 2024. This cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will affect over 71 million Social Security beneficiaries.

This COLA is significantly smaller than last year’s Social Security COLA, which was 8.7%. Annual Social Security COLAs are intended to counter the increase in consumer prices brought about by inflation, and this year’s lower Social Security COLA is a sign of slowing, but persistent inflation on the prices of consumer goods.

The average Social Security retirement beneficiary will see a $50 monthly increase, but the average increase for retirees in Texas will likely be smaller. About 96% of public school employees do not pay into the Social Security system, and therefore many of these employees either do not receive Social Security benefits or those benefits are significantly reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

This week it was announced that H.R. 82, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2023 that deals with WEP/GPO, will receive a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. The hearing is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, at 2 p.m. CT. Members of the public can watch the hearing online. Any person(s) and/or organization(s) wishing to submit written comments for the hearing record can do so here: The committee has details on how to format your comments.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 These are the right-wing ideologues taking over school boards. Over the last three years, an interconnected network of political action committees (PACs), largely funded by billionaires who support school privatization, has begun to transform the nature of local school board elections across Texas. They’ve done this with the help of consultants whose efforts have largely gone unnoticed. (Texas Observer, Nov. 13) 


📖 Even in Texas, the only good voucher bill is a dead one (Editorial). There is no such thing as a good voucher bill. Not the bill passed by the Senate that would create $8,000 vouchers nor the one that, for the first time this year, made it through the House committee Friday that would offer students $10,500 annually to attend private schools. Even seemingly benign or narrowly tailored bills have a way of ballooning in cost and generating underwhelming results. (Houston Chronicle, Nov. 10) 


📖 Texas education board debates how climate change will be discussed in new textbooks

Earlier this month, one of the state’s railroad commissioners  — the Railroad Commission oversees energy in Texas — urged elected education officials to teach the importance of fossil fuels. However, several education and science groups say that watering down the proposed climate change curriculum would not serve students. (Texas Standard, Nov. 16)