Sept. 1, 2023: Lawsuit Season

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

Friday, September 1, 2023

Barbie was the hit of the summer. And so are labor unions, as it turns out.

Union Made

Just before Labor Day, the U.S. Treasury has released a first-of-its-kind report, outlining all the ways that supporting unionization of American workers will benefit the economy and, specifically, the middle class: 

  • Unions raise members’ wages by 10-15%
  • They even help improve wages and benefits for non-union workers
  • Together, that sense of well-being chips away at social inequality and wage gaps for marginalized communities

The news is likewise good for education unions. In a separate, newly released poll, results show that most Americans — across the political spectrum — support teachers and their unions. Support is even higher among parents. 

We know this, of course. It’s why we wear our union label with pride. It’s also why our union fights so fiercely against efforts to erode public education in Texas. 

Teaching jobs have always been a cornerstone of the middle class, and Texas lawmakers have a responsibility to keep it that way. The fact is rising costs and stagnant wages are holding our teachers and school staff back. When we invest in teachers and schools, the middle class grows. So when teachers thrive, our communities do too. 

Texas lawmakers would do well to remember that — and not just on Labor Day. 

In this week’s Hotline:

  • Sept. 1 is the day most bills from the 88th Legislature go into effect. We’ve got updates on (bad) education bills that have controversy swirling already.
  • Who’s actually funding the privatization push in Texas? Hint: It’s not Texans.
  • Houston Federation of Teachers fights the superintendent’s new evaluation scheme. Houston Federation of Teachers wins. 
  • School districts are fighting back against TEA’s A-F rankings change.

— Texas Legislature

Legislative Round-Up: Bad Bills Going Into Effect

Today, Sept. 1, hundreds of laws passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year go into effect.

Many of these bills are consequential to public educators and are controversial. 

It is clear already from the botched implementation of many of these bills that public school students and educators — those most affected by these bills — were not properly consulted or considered. It is likewise clear from the litigation surrounding many of these bills that their legality also was not properly considered. 

This week we look into the controversies surrounding (and setbacks to) the implementation of:

  • HB 3 & armed guards on school campuses

  • HB 900 & banning books in school libraries

  • SB 763 & allowing uncertified chaplains to act as school counselors

We’ll have more bills to watch — including more court updates — in next week’s Hotline.

— Event

Schools in Crisis: Unpacking the 88th Legislature

Tuesday, Sept. 5, 6 p.m. CT

Register online for Zoom link

A spate of bad bills for education — passed by the Legislature — go into effect Sept. 1. On Tuesday, we’ll walk through them together, plan for an upcoming special session on education, and hear from Rep. James Talarico, a member of the House Public Education Committee.

— School Privatization

Unmasking Vouchers: Charter Schools Now PAC

One participant in a community protest with McAllen AFT and other allies outside one of Gov. Abbott’s pro-voucher campaign stops this spring. Photo by Clarissa Riojas. 

Texas has become awash in dark money seeking to influence public education over the past several years. This dark money represents political and business agendas working to undermine our public schools and degrade the quality of public education in Texas and to advance privatization and vouchers. 

While the dark money web of influence is complex, pull on just a few threads and you’ll see how a few extremely wealthy “activists” use intermediary organizations and politicians willing to accept their contributions to advance privatization and the “education reform” movement in Texas. 

We will be digging deeper into public campaign finance data over the next several weeks to: 

  • reveal who is pushing the privatization fight in our state
  • show just how little privatization has to do with serving Texas students or improving public education in our state
  • map connections between Texas politicians, national donors, and extreme political organizations

This week, we start with a look at the Charter Schools Now PAC — and who it’s funding in the Legislature and at the State Board of Education — with the help of a tool from public education parent and researcher Chris Tackett.

— TEA Takeover

HFT Sues Over ‘Illegal’ Teacher Evaluation System, Wins Temporary Restraining Order

Image reads: Houston occupied school district.

On Wednesday, the Houston Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against state-installed Houston Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles and the appointed board of managers for illegally developing and implementing a new teacher evaluation system, which determines teachers’ employment situation and their compensation. 

The following day, a Harris County judge granted the local union’s request for a temporary restraining order and scheduled a temporary injunction hearing for Sept. 11. In the interim, the district cannot implement the new evaluation system. 

HFT’s lawsuit argues the district violated the Texas Education Code by failing to gather input from teachers and other stakeholders when developing the new evaluation criteria.  

“Superintendent Miles has grossly and illegally expanded both his power and that of the appointed school board,” said HFT President Jackie Anderson. “This is autocratic, not democratic or even legal. We will not stand by and allow him to run roughshod over this district and destroy all the progress this community has made without a fight.”  

It has been a week of wins for our members in Houston. Last week, after HFT and the American Federation of Teachers threatened Miles with a federal lawsuit over his order prohibiting educators from posting on social media or other communications platforms anything he considers critical of the district, he backed down and reverted to current policy.

— Event

Join Texas AFT at the Texas Tribune Festival

Solidarity Forever: One of the Tribfest sessions sponsored by Texas AFT is a one-on-one conversation and book signing with iconic labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. Enter for your chance to claim one of Texas AFT’s free tickets.

Texas AFT is a proud sponsor of this year’s Texas Tribune Festival in downtown Austin, Sept. 21-23. The programs features more than 100 unforgettable conversations on topics including:

  • the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead
  • how cities in Texas and around the country are changing
  • the integrity of upcoming elections
  • the threat of school privatization
  • and so much more!

We want to bring our members with us. Texas AFT has 10 tickets to give away to our members interested in attending Tribfest. Last chance: Enter TODAY for your chance to claim one!

— Testing

7 ISDs Join Lawsuit Against A-F Rating System

Late this spring, at the height of legislative chaos, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced that he would be updating the A-F accountability system for Texas school districts to raise the bar for meeting the college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicator. He also announced that these new standards would apply retroactively for the 2022-2023 school year. 

This move was met with immediate and swift criticism from districts that don’t want to be measured using a standard that didn’t exist at the beginning of the school year. More than 200 districts signed a letter questioning the giant leap in the passing score cutoff, as well as the timing of the refresh, which is hot on the heels of the STAAR redesign and in the midst of ongoing legislative fights about private school vouchers.

Seven districts have now taken their objections a step further and joined in a suit against the commissioner, specifically requesting that TEA delay the implementation of this A-F “refresh.” They are rightly concerned that this update will negatively impact either campus or district accountability ratings and throw them into the same zone of uncertainty that Houston ISD experienced prior to being taken over by the state.

On Wednesday, at the State Board of Education meeting, Mike Morath named the lawsuit as “completely without merit.” The next phase is uncertain, but districts and education advocates hope a legal pause button will be pressed before the agency releases its ratings on Sept. 28.

— Bridges Fellowship 

We’re Hiring: Student Fellowship Available

Texas AFT is looking to develop the next generation of policy and communications experts in the labor and pro-public education movement. 

Each year, Texas AFT recruits hardworking undergraduate students to join the Bridges Fellowship. The Fellowship is named in honor of the late Linda Bridges, the president of Texas AFT for over two decades and a titan in the Texas labor movement.

Headshot of Kennedy Quintanilla

“The Bridges Fellowship helped me learn so much about not just public education, but how the Texas Legislature works. The fellowship helped me become well-rounded in a variety of areas that have helped me in my career.” 

Jose Puente

Communications Assistant, Congressman Greg Casar

2022-2023 Bridges Fellow

Bridges Fellows are integral to Texas AFT’s legislative, electoral, and general communications strategy. Bridges Fellows will get hands-on experience doing consequential work to further the goals of our organization. Our fellows must be committed to helping improve the lives of our members and the families and students we serve across the state. 

We are currently looking to hire two new fellows to join the 2023-2024 class: one public policy fellow and one communications fellow. Learn more and apply now!

Recommended Reading

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

📖 Want to watch the Ken Paxton impeachment in person? Here’s how to snag a ticket. The hottest ticket in Texas next week isn’t a college football matchup. The long-awaited impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, set to begin Sept. 5, is expected to draw big crowds to the State Capitol in Austin. (Dallas Morning News, Aug. 30) 


📖 District asks voters to approve salary raise for Round Rock ISD staff in November election. A salary increase for Round Rock Independent School District employees will be up to voters to approve at the polls in November after the district’s Board of Trustees voted to call for a Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election, or VATRE, earlier this week. (KXAN, Aug. 24) 

📖 Texas planned to have managers run Austin ISD’s special ed department. Now it’s got an alternative. State education officials are changing course on plans to install a team to manage Austin ISD’s special education department. AISD interim Superintendent Matias Segura said Wednesday the Texas Education Agency has presented the district with an alternative plan to a special education conservatorship, but shared few specifics. (KUT, Aug. 30)