Teacher, School Employee Unions Join with School Districts to Demand State Act to Avert School Financial Crisis

Candis Houston, President of Aldine AFT. Photo: FOX 26 Houston

HOUSTON — Just weeks ahead of looming financial disaster for Texas schools, school employee unions and district leadership from school districts across the Gulf Coast joined forces to push for action from Governor Abbott.

The “hold harmless” provision, enacted by the Texas Education Agency, maintained pre-pandemic levels of state funding through December 31st of this year. A coalition of unions representing school employees, including Northeast Houston AFT, Cy-Fair AFT, the Houston Federation of Teachers, Aldine AFT, Fort Bend AFT, and the Houston Educational Support Professionals (HESP), are calling for an extension of this provision, to ensure have adequate funding through the remaining 18 weeks of the 2020–21 school year for both virtual and in-person learning.

Candis Houston, President of Aldine AFT said: “COVID-19 has hit our schools hard, and it’s not done with us yet. We need the state’s support. If the “hold harmless” period is not extended for the rest of this school year, school districts stand to lose thousands or even millions of dollars in funding because of pandemic-related attendance declines. School districts will be forced into tough budget decisions, and those tough decisions may include staff layoffs and cut programs — in the middle of a global pandemic. It is critical that Gov. Abbott and the Texas Education Agency extend the “hold harmless” funding reprieve through the end of the 2020–2021 school year.”

Dr. LaTonya Goffney, Aldine ISD Superintendent said: “Despite the challenges posed by COVID, we continue to reach students and ensure learning is happening with our on-campus and at-home learners. We have successfully re-engaged students through our outreach efforts and continue to see students enrolling each week. However, despite our best effort, we have not been able to reach last year’s attendance levels.

If the hold-harmless provision is not extended, the enrollment decline resulting from the COVID pandemic will cost Aldine ISD more than $20 million in state funding. Such a loss in funding during a critical time for our communities and public schools will hurt our students and our schools for years to come. The Aldine ISD community needs funding stability to continue to serve our students with excellence and provide needed job security for our teachers and staff. “

State Representative Jarvis Johnson stated: “10 months into this pandemic, and TEA continues to add undue burdens and roadblocks for school districts to overcome. Commissioner Mike Morath has not extended the hold harmless provision, which will have detrimental consequences to ISDs across the State, and especially the ones I represent. The hold harmless provision should be extended for the remaining 2020–2021 school year, and allow schools to focus on providing education, and not worrying about laying of teachers and essential school staff during this pandemic.”

Shonda Below, President of Northeast Houston AFT, said: “Governor Abbott, it is essential that you show Texans how much you value our public schools, how much you recognize the importance of school districts being able to provide the best educational experience during this pandemic. This can best be done by extending Hold Harmless for the reminder of the school year.”

Glenda Macal, President of Fort Bend AFT said: “In Fort Bend ISD, we are facing a 15 million dollar deficit if the Hold Harmless Exemption is not extended. Our teachers and staff did not recieve a raise or even a step increase as many districts in our area did. That coupled with the fact that our teachers are being compelled to work 12–15 hour days to accommodate the COVID crisis and Online Instruction modifications, the increased demand on social and emotional wellbeing and the increased requirement to come up with new and engaging teaching strategies to not just keep students engaged but to motivate parents to support their children. Please do not cause further damage to our babies than this pandemic has already caused.”

Hany Khalil, Vice President of the Houston Federation of Teachers and Executive Director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation said: “Houston ISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan recently stated at a town hall that HISD had lost 11,000 students during the COVID pandemic, costing the district 85 million dollars. We can’t maintain operations at the current level of funding — it’s hurting students, schools, and our communities. We need the State of Texas to fully reinstate funding at pre-COVID levels — our schools deserve nothing less”.

The coalition is calling on community allies to call Governor Abbott’s office and participate in a letter writing campaign to raise public awareness and demand action from Abbott to protect our schools and students.

The full video of the press conference can be found at facebook.com/gcaflcio

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The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO unites the power of 95 unions representing 60,000 union members across 13 counties to advocate for working families in the Texas Gulf Coast. We mobilize our members and community partners to demand a fair shot at better lives for all working people — regardless of the color of our skin, which country we come from, or whom we love. Learn more: www.gcaflcio.org/

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Official account of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.