Texas Voters Turn Out for Public Schools in 2023 Elections

Elections results on Prop 9, showing that it passed with 83.73% of the vote and a total of 2,141,913 votes.

On Tuesday, more than 2 million Texas voters cast a ballot on 14 statewide propositions and in several local elections, a record high in a constitutional amendment election. More than 14% of registered voters in Texas cast a ballot, the highest percentage in an odd-year election since 2005.

There were several critical elections for educators on the ballot this November. Chief among them was Proposition 9, which provides some retired educators with their first pension cost-of-living adjustment in nearly two decades. Locally, there were also several school district bonds, school board races, and voter approval tax-rate elections in which Texas AFT local unions had vested interests.

Retired Educator COLA Passes Overwhelmingly

Texans voted resoundingly to provide retired educators with a cost-of-living adjustment to their monthly pension annuity — the first such increase that some retirees will have received in nearly two decades.

While odd-year elections historically have very low turnout, thanks to our members’ efforts, we increased the statewide turnout rate by over 60% compared to 2021, the last constitutional amendment election. Proposition 9 passed by an 84% margin, receiving more votes in favor than any of the 13 other propositions on the ballot. 

Pensions for educators who have retired since 2004 have been stagnant since they first retired, despite inflation dramatically reducing the purchasing power of a dollar — in some cases by more than 60%. Those who retired before 2004, who last received a small pension increase in 2013, have had inflation decimate their purchasing power by even more. 

With the passage of Proposition 9, many retired educators will receive a raise of between 2% and 6%. Now that voters have approved the COLA, it will take effect in January 2024. The COLA distribution is tiered in the following ways:

  • those who retired on/before Aug 31, 2001 receive a 6% COLA
  • those who retired after Aug. 31, 2001 and on/before Aug. 31, 2013 receive a 4% COLA
  • those who retired after Aug. 31, 2013 and on/before Aug. 31 2020 receive a 2% COLA

Texas AFT Retiree Plus leaders Pamela Davis-Duck and Rita Runnels greet voters at the polls on Tuesday.

Texas AFT retirees led the way to victory this November. Since the proposition was first announced this summer, Texas AFT Retiree Plus has been working to get out the vote. Our retirees collectively sent nearly a quarter-million texts, made hundreds of calls, and greeted voters at the polls to push this proposition to victory.

Texas AFT retirees also led the way in pushing this COLA across the finish line in the regular session of the 88th Legislature, in which a COLA bill passed unanimously out of the Texas House and Senate. That bill also included a one-time stipend for educators who are 70 years and older. Read more about their fight for COLA in our legislative recap.

Of course, the COLA included in Proposition 9 is overdue and inadequate. These retirees will receive an increase to their monthly pension checks between 2% and 6%, but their cost of living has increased by a minimum of 18% — and, in many cases, as much as 60% or 70%. Many educators were also left out of this COLA:  those who retired since August 2020 won’t get any increase. 

That said, with the overwhelming victory for Proposition 9, voters in Texas sent a clear message to the Texas Legislature, the governor, and the lieutenant governor: Texans support retired educators and the state must do more to support these retirees.

Good News for Local School School Board, Bond, & VATRE Elections

Several of our local unions, including Cy-Fair AFT, Aldine AFT, and Alief AFTSE, vetted and endorsed candidates in their local school district elections. 

Overall, educator-endorsed candidates prevailed in these school district trustee elections, something that mirrors national trends. In an Instagram post, the National Education Association reported that 80% of educator-recommended school board candidates won their elections. 

Aldine AFT and Alief AFTSE both saw huge wins for their endorsed candidates. In nearby Cy-Fair ISD, Cy-Fair AFT were able to protect a long-time ally of school staff on the board, though three other endorsed candidates came up short in close races flooded with money from extremist groups like Moms for Liberty.

But there was more good news to be had.

Education Round Rock, Fort Bend AFT, and Brownsville Educators Stand Together (BEST AFT) all mobilized to support school employee pay raise propositions on the ballot via voter-approval tax-rate elections (VATREs). 

A VATRE is an election allowed by the state Legislature to approve a tax-rate increase that generates additional revenue for public schools. If a school district adopts a maintenance & operations (M&O) tax rate that exceeds the maximum amount allowed by state statute, a VATRE must be held to gain voter approval to raise the tax rate.  

Each of the VATREs that Texas AFT local unions endorsed will provide educators with increased compensation, and each passed resoundingly. Prop A in Brownsville ISD passed with 60% of the vote, Prop A in Fort Bend ISD passed with 57% of the vote, and Prop A in Round Rock ISD passed with 72% of the vote.

In addition to the success of these proposals, it was a good night for school bonds across Texas. Seventy-five Texas school districts put bond measures on the ballot, totaling nearly $18 billion, according to the Texas Bond Review Board. According to an early analysis of results by The Texas Tribune, at least 50% of those proposals passed. 

Aldine AFT endorsed three bonds totaling $18 million. Each bond passed with at least 55% of the vote. These three bonds will:

  • Proposition A covers campus rebuilds, campus redesigns and renovations, safety and security, facility improvements and high-priority maintenance, technology infrastructure, and transportation.
  • Proposition B will cover instructional technology.
  • Proposition C will call for the construction of an Education and Performing Arts Center.

Other Statewide Propositions on the Ballot

In addition to Proposition 9, Texas AFT endorsed two other propositions: Proposition 5 and Proposition 8. Both passed resoundingly.

Proposition 5 redesignates the national research university fund as the Texas University Fund (TUF) and appropriates funds from the economic stabilization fund (“Rainy Day Fund”) to the TUF. This change will significantly increase available funding to public universities. Proposition 5 passed with 64% of the vote.

Proposition 8 creates the broadband infrastructure fund to be used only for expanding access to and adoption of broadband and telecommunications services. Seven million people currently lack access in Texas. Proposition 8 allocates $1.5 billion to the new fund (federal matching funds are also available from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program). Access to the internet is crucial for economic opportunity, and expanding access to underserved communities will enhance public education in Texas.

Texas AFT opposed one proposition, Proposition 3, which passed with 68% of the vote. Proposition 3 prohibits the Legislature from imposing a tax based on the wealth or net worth of an individual or family, ultimately limiting the amount or revenue that could be used for public schools and public universities.

There were 10 other statewide proposition elections in which Texas AFT did not endorse. All but one passed. Proposition 13, which would have increased the mandatory retirement age for state judges to 79 from the current mandatory retirement age of 75, and would have increased the minimum retirement age from 70 to 75, did not pass.