October 9, 2020: Early voting news/info; Charter schools amass PAC war chests; TRS looks at healthcare costs

You can find all news, updates and resources addressing COVID-19 here on our website.


Court ruling clears the way for early voting to start on Tuesday: Be sure to vote early!

Election 2020 Blue banner with ghosted vote button

Early voting starts Tuesday, October 13, and runs through Friday, October 30.

The Texas Supreme Court has turned away a legal challenge from Republican lawmakers against Gov. Abbott’s order to extend the early voting period. Texas AFT is excited by this development because early voting is beneficial in many ways. It’s safer because there should be fewer people voting and fewer lines. Early voting also gives voters the chance to fix problems with their voter registration and ID, and to make sure their ballot is counted ahead of the regular election day November 3.

Early voting also gives advocacy organizations like Texas AFT the ability to take voters that vote early out of political communications in order to make them more efficient (and bother you less!). Early voting starts October 13 to October 30; take our pledge to vote early and make sure your voice is heard this election. Educators are either at the table or on the menu during the next Legislative session, and this is our chance to elect a better Legislature.

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The fight to ensure safe reopenings continues

Our local unions continue to report mixed news on reopenings for in-person instruction, with some school employees noting they see strict adherence to safety protocols, while many others outline numerous violations of district safety policy that lead to outright dangerous working conditions. We remind you that you can anonymously report coronavirus cases and unsafe working conditions on our COVID-19 tracker.

Corpus Christi AFT continues to fight for more transparency and communication with its district and the need for better protective measures and equipment, as was noted by CCAFT President Dr. Nancy Vera in a virtual Town Hall last night with AFT President Randi Weingarten and Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.

Mask branded with McAllen AFT logoMcAllen AFT this week was awarded an AFT Innovation Fund grant to pay for improving campus air quality by providing filters such as MERV-13s at 33 campuses, along with new PPE to be distributed in the district to students and staff. The union also held a question-and-answer Town Hall with members and the superintendent.

Education Austin, our union for Austin ISD, continues to negotiate with the district after we reported last week that some 1,000 teachers were ready to stay home and teach remotely instead of following district plans for a return of some students to campuses. Meanwhile, our unions in El Paso have been successful in working with local health officials and their districts to delay in-person instruction because of high rates of COVID-19 infection, test positivity, and hospital occupancy. Last week, both El Paso AFT and Socorro AFT worked on agreements to extend remote instruction through late October. This week they worked with their districts and health officials to file a waiver application with the Texas Education Agency that would give them flexibility to stay remote into December.

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Your Choice: Our Responsibility
Endorsements for the 2020 Election

Voters will weigh a variety of issues when deciding on which candidate to support. Your vote is Joe Biden taking selfie with young peopleyour choice. But it’s also our responsibility as your union to look at the candidates’ records on issues affecting public education and working families.

AFT has endorsed Joe Biden for president, and our union has a detailed website devoted to the presidential candidates on the issues. Biden has a long record of supporting our working families and teachers, and as president he will appoint a new U.S. Secretary of Education and send Betsy DeVos packing. DeVos has pursued a destructive agenda to privatize education with proposals for massive expenditures on private-school vouchers. DeVos also tried to divert millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funding away from public schools and to private schools.

As early voting begins, we encourage you to explore the issues and view our endorsed candidates at our Election 2020 page.

 

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Wealthy supporters of privatizing education fund massive charter-school war chests

Let’s use our People Power to beat Big Money

Infographic outlining Charter PAC money and spendingThe most recent publication of political action committee (PAC) filings to the Texas Ethics Commission revealed the huge expenditures that charter schools are making to influence elections across the state. As of September 24, when the reporting period of the most recent filing ended, charter-school PACs in Texas have $1.13 million cash on hand going into the rest of this election season.

Leading the charter school PACs in total expenditures is the Charter Schools Now PAC which spent a jaw-dropping $768,634 across Texas from July 1 to September 24. Charter Schools Now spent significant money in support of known enemies of public education, such as state Reps. Mike Schofield, Briscoe Cain, and Jared Patterson. The most significant donor to the Charter Schools Now PAC is Alice Walton, the heiress to the Walmart fortune, who donated $875,000 to the PAC this election cycle.

Alarmingly, another charter-school PAC, the Education Equity PAC, has not submitted an ethics report to the TEC as of the October 5 deadline and is currently embroiled in several compliance issues with the commission. So, we don’t even have information on where this organization’s money is going or where it’s coming from.

You can help fight back by donating to the Texas AFT COPE fund, which supports candidates who are champions for true public education.

Overall, the two major takeaways from this week’s publication of ethics reports: (1) Charter schools and the powerful elites who back them will stop at nothing to control the democratic process and push school privatization; and (2) Charter schools are scared of the political organizing power of public educators going into November’s election. Make sure to head to the polls this month to support our endorsed candidates and show these charter school PACs that people power beats big money.

Texas AFT under state law is not allowed to use member dues money for political contributions to candidates. So voluntary contributions from members to the Committee On Political Education (COPE) are the only means to provide direct financial support to candidates. Additionally, Texas AFT can only solicit from its members and their immediate family members for contributions to COPE. If you are unsure about eligibility to donate, give us a call at 512-448-0130.

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TRS report shows significant healthcare savings, but not enough to stunt the impacts of rising premiums and drug costs

 

Phone showing TRS Health Care logoLast week, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) submitted its analysis on what was driving healthcare costs in Texas to the House Select Committee on Statewide Health Care Costs. The examination found that primary factors in cost growth for most years include payments to doctors and hospitals and the cost of pharmaceuticals. The size of TRS membership has helped TRS counteract these cost increases through negotiations with large providers, and that has resulted in significant discounts.

Those discounts represented the single largest healthcare savings, $5.2 billion for 2018. TRS provides health coverage for more than 710,000 active and retired public education employees and their families and has managed to keep the cost for its coverage below what other self-funded employers pay in Texas. Other providers saw a 24% increase in rates on average from 2013-2019, while TRS health plans only saw a 7% increase.

TRS still faces many of the challenges seen by any provider, and active employees and retirees may not be feeling these savings as much as one would hope, since healthcare inflation has still outpaced the growth in employer contributions from school districts.

When TRS-ActiveCare was created, the $225 total minimum contribution required from the state and employer per employee was intended to allow TRS to offer a $0 premium for employee-only coverage. However, the required contributions have not changed since 2001. While most school districts contribute more than the minimum towards premiums, many have struggled to increase contributions at a rate that keeps up with inflation and maintains affordability for school employees. As a result, employees on average paid 46% of their total health premiums and approximately 60% of their medical and pharmacy costs in 2019.

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More great professional development, trainings, and wellness sessions planned for our members

Start with our T-TESS training on Oct. 28

Drawing of Classroom and Chalkboard with T-TESS notes
Our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, this week awarded Texas AFT an Innovation Fund grant that will help create more wellness sessions in the future. (You may recall our hit virtual sessions on meditation, yoga and Zumba this summer in our Wellness Wednesday series.) The grant also will help fund our work to get more teachers into National Board Certification programs, intensive and research-based training to improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

In the near term, we are offering a T-TESS virtual training on Wednesday, October 28, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Confused by the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS)? This session will discuss the four domains in the system and educate teachers about what their administrators will be looking for during their formal observations. The session also discusses how to gather artifacts for the end of year conference. Register for this free training here.

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Protect Students GraphicOn Wednesdays, we wear red!

Turn your social media channels red each Wednesday in support of educators and students. Our goal is to show our numbers across platforms and to push local leaders and elected officials to show their support too.

While we’ve seen some districts and counties delay start dates for in-person instruction and move closer to our common sense plan for safe school reopenings, there’s still work to do this back-to-school season.


 
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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.