In December, we looked back at the year that was — and all the highs, lows, and whoas for public education 2023 provided. Now we’re ready to look ahead to what promises to be a busy, uncertain year for our Texas public schools.
2024 is a presidential election year, with consequential down-ballot races across Texas. The backdrop to this election in Texas:
- public schools struggling to make do with no additional money in their coffers
- an ongoing retention crisis among teachers and school staff
- Implementation of a flurry of bad bills with profound consequences for public education
- the governor’s continued war on legislators who stood against his privatization schemes
Here’s what to expect as 2024 continues, so you can buckle up and be ready to fight forward for thriving Texas public schools. We can’t give up; our educators, students, and communities deserve better.
Will There Be a Fifth Special Session?
In December, the fourth special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott ended without passing Abbott’s long-sought private school voucher scheme. In fact, no education bills passed both chambers of the Legislature in that fourth special session, leaving public schools without any increase to their state funding.
Will the governor resume his privatization quest in a remarkable fifth special session of the 88th Legislature? It’s hard to say for certain, but likely not.
Though Abbott threatened to call legislators back (again and again and again) if they failed to pass his signature school voucher scam, he also pledged to defeat Republican opponents of vouchers at the ballot box. With primary elections looming on March 5, early fundraising reports suggest Abbott may spend millions of dollars in Republican primaries to defeat House incumbents who defied him on vouchers.
Primary Election Battles Over Vouchers, Public Schools
Speaking of primary elections, let’s look at the electoral battlefield, which, so far, is broad and chaotic. All 16 Republican incumbents who voted to strip Education Savings Accounts (vouchers) from the school funding bill in the fourth special session have attracted primary challengers.
Though they do not vote with our union’s priorities on every issue, these incumbents have been staunch allies in the fight against vouchers. Losing them in the Legislature could mean losing the voucher fight in the 2025 legislative session.
There has also been a slew of retirement announcements from legislators on both sides of the aisle, including several anti-voucher Republicans, leaving a good number of open seats up for grabs in heavily gerrymandered districts.
The impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton also weighs heavily over Republican primaries, with Paxton essentially declaring war on Speaker Dade Phelan and Texas House Republicans who voted to impeach him in the fall.
Texas AFT will have more resources available for public education voters in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please make sure you’re registered to vote before the deadline on Feb. 5.
Uncertainty at the State Board of Education
Amid the continued rollout of gargantuan curriculum bill House Bill 1605, the State Board of Education has an ambitious agenda for 2024. In a surprise turn of events, however, the board will be tackling its monumental tasks with a brand-new chairperson.
In December, the governor appointed Aaron Kinsey, who represents SBOE District 15, as the new board chair, replacing Dr. Keven Ellis, who has served as chair since 2019. While the appointment of a new chair was expected, it is surprising that the appointee is a newer board member with less than a year’s experience on the SBOE.
Given this leadership change, our ability to predict how the SBOE will tackle its rulemaking and curriculum responsibilities is somewhat limited. But there are some pieces of the puzzle we expect at forthcoming board meetings:
- January: approval of new rules and policies related to instructional materials review and adoption of subject-area review and suitability rubrics, as mandated by HB 1605
- April: approval of new State Board for Educator Certification rules related to teacher preparation and certification
- June: review of new charter school applications as recommended to the board by Education Commissioner Mike Morath
- September: potential discussion of revisions to social studies TEKS
Throughout the year, we also expect further work on the proposed American Indian/Native Studies ethnic studies course, as well as proposed revisions to career and technical education TEKS, among other discussions.
Districts Vote on Legislature’s Chaplain Bill
Texas school districts have until March 1 to decide whether to adopt a policy to allow unlicensed chaplains to act as school counselors. Under Senate Bill 763, passed in the 88th Legislature, these chaplains — without training or certification requirements — would then operate as students’ first point of contact for critical support, including mental health assistance, suicide prevention, and behavioral health services.
Across the state, many districts have already put this issue to a vote by their school boards, with mixed results. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has noted SB 763 is clearly unconstitutional, infringing on both the separation of church and state and the freedom of religious expression. Education experts, likewise, have raised the alarm about lowering certification standards for key mental health and student support positions.
Regardless, as districts continue to vote on implementing SB 763, it is paramount that educators, students, parents, and community members make their voices heard at the local level. Texas Freedom Network has created an SB 763 Resource Kit to help you do so. To receive a copy of the toolkit, please visit tfn.org/txchaplain.
High-Stakes Election This November
As you’d expect, the stakes couldn’t be higher for public education this November. Without new, public education-focused leadership, it will be extremely difficult to build the future we want to see: one with public schools funded and supported to thrive.
Though the number of competitive legislative seats is quite small thanks to redistricting, there will be a handful of competitive races for the Texas House. We’ll know more about the electoral landscape after the primary election on March 5 and any ensuing runoffs.
That said, the presidential election likely will overshadow much of what happens in politics this year, as it looks increasingly like President Joe Biden will face former President Donald Trump in a rematch of the 2020 election. Nationally, many look at Texas as a potential battleground; even as Republicans have entrenched themselves in statewide offices, the state’s demographic shifts continue to favor Democrats.