Northeast Houston AFT President Shonda Below with a student at Texas AFT’s Public Education Advocacy Day in March 2023. Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios.
When the Texas Education Agency released the results of their now infamously ignored Teacher Vacancy Taskforce Report, their recommendations fell into three broad categories:
While these recommendations were not perfect, they did include many positive changes that would have been important — if implemented.
During the subsequent legislative session, the Legislature failed to make any progress on training and support or compensation, but when it came to working conditions, the lawmakers truly outdid themselves. Instead of improving educator working conditions, the Legislature actually made things worse for you. The primary driver behind this backwards momentum on the issue of working conditions was a single bill: HB 1605.
Outside of HB 1605, the session for working conditions mirrored the results for the other issues outlined. Good bills were left to die, and no meaningful progress was achieved.
Unpacking the Legislature
Read our other breakdowns of public education issues:
What Passed … or Didn’t
HB 1605 was the omnibus curriculum bill advertised as providing support to educators. In reality, the bill would incentivize foundation-area teachers to use overly prescriptive TEA-developed curriculum material. Under the bill, the commissioner of education is allowed to award no-bid contracts to develop open education resources (OER), and districts are financially incentivized to adopt and use these materials with a special allotment.
While the bill was pitched as a way to help teachers who are spending excessive amounts of time on lesson design, the end result reduced educators’ responsibility and agency over curriculum.
There are some measures in the bill that Texas AFT supported, like limitations on documenting lesson plans, but throughout the legislative process, Texas AFT opposed HB 1605 because it would take critical curriculum decisions out of the hands of educators and place increased authority in the hands of the Texas Education Agency. Texas AFT heard from educators who have taught from curriculum resources similar to those outlined by HB 1605; our members told us that these materials were designed for strict adherence to a rigid curriculum and inhibited their ability to teach. Educators who used materials developed by the company Amplify (more on them later) said the materials were especially rigid.
Public education advocates — including Texas AFT — were able to push the Texas House to adopt amendments that softened the negative effects of the bill. However, when the Senate passed the bill, it stripped those hard-fought amendments.
Instead of improving educator working conditions, the Texas Legislature spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a “solution” that is a slap in the face to educators and the profession of education broadly.
While the saga of HB 1605 was important, the broader story of educator working conditions is defined just as much by the bills that didn’t pass as the one that did. Several bills that were supported by educators were left on the cutting room floor.
That included bills that would have:
- cut down on unnecessary paperwork, like HB 2172 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston)
- defined how much area a custodian would be required to clean, like HB 2695 by Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas)
- required nurses to be employed at every campus and reduced the student-to-nurse ratio, like SB 1919 by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston)
These bills would have not only improved the lives of Texas educators but would have also improved the lives of Texas students. As we like to say, educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. The failure of these bills to pass reflects a disregard for the lives and well-being of both educators and their students.
Why It Happened
The failure to meaningfully improve school employee working conditions is indicative of the lack of respect that school employees receive. While lawmakers love to talk about the importance of public education and public educators, they ended the session with very little to show for it. While Texas AFT allies proposed several bills that would have demonstrated a respect for educators, lawmakers instead chose to pass a bill that attacks the autonomy of educators.
HB 1605 was known inside the Capitol as the “Amplify bill,” due to the bill’s association with the curriculum and assessment company Amplify, founded in 2012. The bill has been portrayed as a “vendor bill,” a common term for a bill designed to benefit a certain vendor, as HB 1605 would allow TEA to contract directly with a company to purchase instructional materials. While Amplify was not mentioned directly in the text of HB 1605, Amplify would be on a short list of companies that could develop the “Open Education Resources” outlined in HB 1605.
Amplify received a $19 million emergency state contract from TEA during the COVID-19 pandemic. HB 1605’s fiscal note states that the entirety of the bill would cost the state more than $350 million annually.
Instead of trusting and respecting educators, lawmakers choose to invest state tax dollars in corporate education technology companies.
What Legislators Are Saying
Lawmakers are patting themselves on the back for HB 1605, claiming the bill is a win for teachers, even though groups representing educators opposed the bill.
While the curriculum resources resulting from HB 1605 might provide some support and guidance, especially for less experienced educators, the bill is overly rigid and prescriptive for most teachers in the classroom.
The bill does not require educators to teach from the materials created as a result of HB 1605, but the bill does financially incentivize school districts to use these developed curricula and standards.
The state’s continual micromanagement of educators while doing nothing to improve their material working conditions speaks volumes to lawmakers’ priorities.
What to Expect Next
The legislative session might be over, but our fight certainly isn’t. During the regular session they refused to improve your day-to-day working conditions just like they refused to give you a pay raise.
Lawmakers heard from educators about their plight in the classroom, but evidently they refused to take action. This fall we won’t just tell them. We’re going to show them via our newly launched Working Conditions Tracking Project.
We are looking for Texas public school employees in all job roles — in both K-12 and higher education — to participate in a monthlong project. Our goal: track the real issues in our schools.
Each week from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, we’ll email you a form to track certain conditions affecting your job, including:
- Amount of time for planning, grading, lunch, and breaks
- Hours you worked that week
- Out-of-pocket dollars spent to support your students
- Extra meetings and paperwork requirements
- Safety concerns and class sizes
- Bullying and harassment
Your individual responses will be reviewed by Texas AFT staff and kept confidential. But the overall results will help us lead a campaign for significant change. Sign to participate in the project, and we’ll send you more info soon!
The recommendations from the Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Select Committee, which will be published by Aug. 11, seem as though they will be wide-reaching based on the committee’s July discussion. Even then, however, employee working conditions largely took a backseat to debates over school funding and private school vouchers. The recommendations from the committee will likely be the basis for whatever bill leadership in the Texas House proposes during the special session this October.
It is unclear how broad Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a special session will be, and given his track record, it is doubtful that he would specifically call for improvements to school employee working conditions. However, it is possible that decisions made in October will have a direct impact on your day-to-day work life. For that reason, we urge you to write select committee members before their report is released.