Oct. 13, 2023: It’s not about the kids

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

Friday, October 13, 2023

It’s not about the kids.

Spoiler alert: The fight to privatize education isn’t about doing what’s best for kids. It never has been. It’s about turning a profit for wealthy investors and fueling Gov. Abbott’s national political ambitions. 

An incredible piece from The Texas Tribune and ProPublica this week underscores that point by looking at the state’s occupation of B-rated Houston ISD and how that treatment compares to the state’s secondary education system of privately run charter schools: 

In June, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath embarked on the largest school takeover in recent history, firing the governing board and the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District after one of its more than 270 schools failed to meet state educational standards for seven consecutive years.

Though the state gave Houston’s Wheatley High School a passing score the last time it assigned ratings, Morath charged ahead, saying he had an obligation under the law to either close the campus or replace the board. He chose the latter.

Meanwhile, reporters Kiah Collier and Dan Keemahill note: 

On at least 17 occasions, Morath has waived expansion requirements for charter networks that had too many failing campuses to qualify, according to a ProPublica and Texas Tribune analysis of state records. The state’s top education official also has approved five other waivers in cases where the charter had a combination of failing schools and campuses that were not rated because they either only served high-risk populations or had students too young to be tested.


And now the governor wants to hand taxpayer dollars over to private schools too, with even fewer accountability measures than charter schools — and no obligations to accept and educate every student. 

Does that seem like a student-centered, metric-based plan to you? 

In this week’s Hotline: 

  • We recap a busy first week of the Legislature’s voucher special session and how you can fight back.  

  • Get our voting recommendations on the 14 constitutional amendments on your ballot this November — including a COLA for retired educators. 

  • We investigate what kind of “Texas Panhandle values” might be taught at West Texas A&M’s new institute. 

  • Check out new updates on President Biden’s loan forgiveness plans.

— Texas Legislature

A Tale of Two Chambers: Senate Fast-Tracks, House Slow Rolls in First Week of Special Session

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

In the first week of this 3rd special session, focused largely on private school vouchers pushed by the governor and his billionaire donors, each chamber of the Texas Legislature took drastically different approaches to the governor’s call. The Texas House, of which a bipartisan majority has remained adamantly opposed to tax-payer funded voucher scams that would undermine our public schools, took little action this first week of the session. On the other side of the capitol, the Texas Senate rammed through their $500 million voucher bill (and a limited school funding bill intended to bribe voucher holdouts) in the span of just four days.

Both chambers’ contrasting approaches to this special session is indicative of each body’s contrasting positions on vouchers as well as broader disagreements that have recently been exacerbated by the Ken Paxton impeachment trial.

— Event

Houston Public Education Town Hall

Saturday, Oct. 21

5-6 p.m. CT

Register to Attend

Houston-area educators, school staff, parents, and students are invited to a public education town hall with legislators, hosted by Texas AFT and Cy-Fair AFT. 

We will be joined in discussion by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (House District 135) and Rep. Penny Morales Shaw (House District 148). Bring your questions about the state of public education in your districts and vouchers in the Legislature. 

Bring your appetites too: Tacos and nachos will be served!


— Elections

What’s on your ballot? Texas Voters to Weigh in on 14 Statewide Props

Voters across the state will be voting on 14 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on November 7, 2023. These ballot propositions range from providing a cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers to establishing a state broadband fund for financing broadband expansion in Texas.

Texas AFT is supporting propositions 5, 8, and 9 and opposing proposition 3. Read the full story on our website to see our position and a summary of each of the 14 amendments on your balltor.

— Labor Rights

Solidarity in Action: Teachers Join UAW Strikes for Better Conditions

The United Auto Workers (UAW) continue to picket across the U.S. to voice their commands. In North Texas, UAW members from Carrollton and Roanoke distribution centers were joined by Texas AFT, Alliance/AFT, and Southwest Dallas AFT members picketing in Carrollton on Thursday, Oct. 5. The picture above is from the UAW Rally and our members showing support.

The UAW workers are demanding better wages and benefits from various employers. There are over 30,000 workers on strike across the U.S., and workers cite frustration with record-breaking profits for corporations while their wages have remained stagnant and are uncompetitive in the current job market. The Wall Street Journal reports that the CEOs of Ford, Stallantis, and GM last year made around 300 times the median earnings of their employees.

— Student Debt

Biden Cancels $9 Billion in Student Debt, Pushes for Greater Affordability Efforts

This past Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it would cancel $9 billion in student loans for 125,000 borrowers. This was made possible through the Department of Education’s “income-driven repayment (IDR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), and granting automatic relief for borrowers with total and permanent disabilities.” To date, millions of Americans have had over $125 billion in student debt forgiven under the Biden administration. 

For more information on how to take advantage of these student loan forgiveness programs, check out the resources on our website or sign up for student debt clinics offered by AFT later this month.

— Privatization

Millionaire Donors Fund New Institute Promoting “Panhandle Values” at West Texas A&M

Last week, it was announced that right-wing millionaire mega donors Alex and Cheryl Fairly would be donating $20 million dollars to create the Hill Institute, an on-campus academy dedicated to promoting a specific set of so-called “American values.” 

This past year, the Fairlys donated $145,000 to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which props up pro-voucher candidates across the state. Among Defend Texas Liberty’s donors is Tim Dunn, a billionaire oil magnate who has funded pro-voucher Christian nationalist groups across the state.

— Event

Image reads: Regional leadership conference.

Texas AFT Bridges Institute Regional Leadership Conferences

Register today to attend our union’s most exciting biennial conference, providing both worksite leader and professional development workshops. 

  • Dallas: Saturday, Oct. 28

  • Houston: Saturday, Feb. 10

  • Rio Grande Valley: Saturday, Feb. 24

It’s time to thrive. Sign up for an RLC near you to get the tools you need to make it happen.

— Member Benefits

New Texas AFT Member Benefit: BMG Money “LoansForAll” Program

B-M-G Money logo.

Texas AFT is pleased to introduce a new membership benefit for active members and retirees: the BMG Money “LoansForAll” Program.  


The BMG Money “LoansForAll” program for Texas AFT members allows employees and retirees to borrow responsibly and repay the debt over time, with fixed, affordable installments regardless of credit score.

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Teacher support falls to local school leaders as Texas Legislature spars over education. About 180 students come into Kaffie Middle School teacher’s Cynthia Hopkins’s seventh grade science classroom every day, joining two axolotls, a bearded dragon, a blue tongue skink, clown fish and guppies. It’s a remarkable time for Hopkins, who was named one of three finalists for Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year last month. But this school year didn’t start quite as she’d hoped. (Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Oct. 6) 

📖 Texas teachers grapple with their raises caught up in voucher fight. As attention swivels to a long-awaited special session to tie loose ends in education, it’s unclear whether raises or any other public school funding measures will even be on the table. But even if lawmakers find a way to insert raises into the conversation, some teachers say they would rather forgo a salary bump than see school vouchers implemented in Texas. (Texas Tribune, Oct. 9) 

📖 Retired educators in need of pension increases push for ‘yes’ votes on Proposition 9. Patsy Esterline retired as an educator in 2018 but could never really afford to stop working. “It’s just, it’s life and expenses happen and we’re not even getting into the doctors and all that because, let me tell you, growing old is not for sissies,” she said, talking about unexpected costs. She’s one of many retired educators who are trying to get the vote out for Proposition 9, which will appear on the November 2023 ballot. (KSAT, Sept. 28)