October 28, 2021: State rep tries to launch investigation into school library books on sex, gender, and race; Our McAllen member is Teacher of the Year; Gov. signs bills into law

McAllen AFT member named
Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year

Four masked women, members of McAllen AFT stand by Jennifer Han displaying a large white and blue cake for her being named Teacher of the Year
McAllen AFT leaders and members congratulate Jennifer Han, our member who was named Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year last Friday.
Find out more about Jennifer here.


State rep tries to launch investigation into school library books on sex, gender, and race

Fancy text: Texas House of Representatives Committee on General Investigations. With State SealOn Monday, State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) penned a letter to some school districts and the Texas Education Agency on a fishing expedition for material he finds inappropriate—items on sexuality, gender, and race, and even health-related resources on AIDS.

Krause’s letter stated he is making the inquiry as the chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, although news reports suggest that no other committee members were aware of the action. The letter asks districts and the TEA to search for 850 books and other materials on Krause-supplied-list to see if they are in use or in libraries on every campus, including their location, and the cost to the district for the materials.

“It’s still a few days before Halloween and yet we have a state lawmaker out hunting for witches– in all the wrong places,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo in a response statement. “Rep. Krause has launched a ridiculous, time-consuming, and tax-dollar-wasting attempt at forming a personal hit list of books in school libraries–books he doesn’t like because they portray our diverse Texas population and the difficult issues its students face.”

Krause wrote that he is looking for items that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The committee’s vice-chair, Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas), told news outlets she was unaware of the letter until it was published and said Krause was using it as a political stunt, since he is running in the Republican Primary against Ken Paxton for attorney general.

“We don’t need statewide politicians and a candidate for attorney general on an inquisition to ban books,” Capo said in the statement. “We need our professionals in school offering our diverse students literature and resources to inspire them with the knowledge that they are not alone in the challenges ahead.”

While some may view Krause’s letter as political theater, it is incendiary for recent attacks against school boards and teachers related to instruction on racial issues. HB 3979 and SB 3–passed by the Legislature this year in a supposed attempt to ban “critical race theory” instruction–have led to disturbing outcomes, including:

  • Parental objections to certain books led to contentious school board meetings in Leander ISD and Katy ISD and led to reviews of the books.
  • The early October reprimand of a Carroll ISD (Southlake) teacher for having the book, This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work, in her classroom library. Two weeks later, the same district would make national news after a curriculum administrator discussing rules on following the Texas legislation told a group of teachers that if their class library contains a book on the Holocaust, they should have a book with “opposing” views.
  • The battle in Carroll ISD (Southlake) over a diversity plan also was the subject of an NBC News Podcast that showed how candidates fuming about critical race theory were funded by political action committees and elected to fight the diversity plan.
  • Groups similar to the Southlake PACs are forming throughout Texas, including Save Texas Kids in Mansfield, which somehow managed to get a list of all Dallas ISD teachers’ emails. In an email to teachers, the group implored them to report on their colleagues if there were any indications they were teaching critical race theory or “predatory gender fluidity.” One teacher, Alliance-AFT member and high-school humanities teacher Melody Townsel, fought back and used the Save Texas Kids letter for a lesson, asking students to critique it and examine the rhetorical devices used. Save Texas Kids has since called for Townsel to be fired.

The Krause letter has led some districts to start scrambling to comply with Krause’s request, while others are taking a more cautious approach, waiting to see if TEA offers any guidance. TEA has not yet commented on the issue.

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Governor starts process of signing special-session bills into law

Texas map divided up into many colors and colored dotsAfter a busy third special session of the Texas Legislature concluded last week, bills passed by the House and Senate were sent to the governor for his final approval. So far, Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law bills regarding redistricting, transgender student athletes, and the funding of higher education construction projects.

On Monday, Abbott signed into law all four redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature–the 15-district State Board of Education map, the 31-district State Senate map, the 150-district State House map, and the 38-district U.S. Congress map. All four maps have been attacked for underrepresenting communities of color, which fueled more than 95% of the state’s population growth in the 10 years since the maps were last redrawn. Several lawsuits have already been filed alleging the new maps are unconstitutional and violate the Voting Rights Act.

Also on Monday, the governor also signed HB 25, which would prevent transgender students from competing in sports with their own gender group. The Biden administration has publicly condemned the passage of HB 25, but it has not yet taken any legal action against the bill. The bill takes effect on January 18, 2022.

SB 52, which authorizes the issuance of $3.3 billion in tuition revenue bonds for higher education institutions to finance construction projects, was signed by the governor Monday and is effective on January 18, 2022. As of press time, the governor had not taken action on SB 8, the bill allocating federal COVID-19 stimulus money. The governor also had not taken action on SJR 2, which would raise the state homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000 for school property taxes, saving the average homeowner about $176, according to the bill’s author, Sen. Paul Bettencourt. After receiving the governor’s signature, this resolution also requires the approval of Texas voters in order to become part of the Texas constitution. SB 1, which provides additional property tax relief to homeowners did receive the governor’s signature earlier this week.

The governor has until November 8 to sign these bills into law, veto them, or allow them to become law without his signature.

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Looking down at white shoes coming together to form a "V" with the rest of the word "vote" in red and blue chalkEarly voting for state ballot amendments ends today

Early voting for the November 2 statewide constitutional amendment election ends today. You can find out more about the ballot items here and more on voting at votetexas.org.

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