October 15, 2021: Redistricting, fed aid to TRS healthcare, trans sports bill; Gov. enters vaccine fray again

Legislative Update:

Before Tuesday when the Legislature’s third special session is required to end, the GOP leadership is hoping to push through bills that would discriminate against transgender student athletes, appropriate $16 billion in federal stimulus funds, and redistrict the state’s House, Senate, congressional, and State Board of Education maps. Gov. Greg Abbott also added a new item to the special session agenda that would ban any vaccine mandates in the state, including those instituted by private employers.

Transgender sports bill passed by House
Ghosted image of protestors, one holding sign with text "trans rights are human rights" on blue background. Gold text below: Stand up against bullying, especially from the Texas LegislatureAfter hours of impassioned testimony from parents and educators rallying against HB 25, the bill that bars transgender students from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identities, passed the House 76-54 on second reading and will now head to the Senate. This harmful bill would force teachers to enforce state-mandated discrimination and deny students their Title IX rights.

Before the House vote, Texas AFT urged educators to take a stand against bullying of students based on their gender identity—including a plea from one of our teacher members outlining just how hurtful this legislation has already become to some of our students. His letter begins with, “Mr. Wright, why does my own state hate me?”

Redistricting continues on path to unfairly draw maps that take power from people of color
On Tuesday, the House approved a newly drawn map for its own 150 districts after 16 hours of debate and consideration of more than 50 amendments. Much of the debate focused on how the state’s urban areas would be divided, but changes were also made to districts in the Rio Grande Valley and Central Texas. Despite the fact that only 5% of the state’s population growth over the past 10 years came from white people, the number of districts in which white people are the majority of the population increased from 83 to 89 districts. White people account for roughly 40% of the state’s population but make up a majority population in nearly 60% of the state’s House districts in the new map. The map was approved by the House on an 83-63 vote and will be sent to the Senate.

This week the House Redistricting Committee approved new maps for the State Board of Education, State Senate, and U.S. Congress districts. Many people who showed up at the Capitol to testify against these maps stated they dilute the votes of people of color. The House is scheduled to debate the Senate and State Board of Education maps on the floor today. (See below for more on the SBOE redistricting.)

Federal aid distribution: money targeted to TRS
Today, the House is also scheduled to debate SB 8, the Senate’s plan to distribute $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief dollars. The version passed by the Senate allocated over $286 million to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), but the House Appropriations Committee removed that funding from the bill, instead including it in HB 160, which will also be considered today. This money would be directed to TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare, the statewide insurance plans for active and retired teachers, with the legislative intent that premiums not increase as a result of coronavirus-related claims incurred before September 1, 2021.


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SBOE redistricting: unfairly taking away representation for people of color

Sergio Lira stands at podium testifyingWatch Sergio Lira—Houston Federation of Teachers member, former teacher, principal, and Houston ISD trustee— tell legislators that proposed SBOE maps will unfairly take electoral power from people of color.

The Texas Legislature may take power away from communities of color for the next decade when the House is expected to vote today on new maps for State Board of Education (SBOE) districts laid out in SB 7, which the Senate has already passed.

If the Legislature approves the maps as they stand, we will lose diverse representation on our highest elected body for public education. Why does this matter? How does this redistricting affect you and your schools? Here’s what the SBOE does:

  • sets the curriculum that teachers teach
  • reviews instructional materials
  • establishes graduation requirements
  • makes decisions on whether new charter schools should exist
  • administers the public school fund
  • approves all rules affecting teacher certification

The proposed maps do not represent Texans of color fairly, particularly in urban areas and suburban areas. Because 95% of the past decade’s population growth in Texas has been in communities of color, and the vast majority of students in our public schools are students of color. As it stands, the new maps outlined in SB 7 are gerrymandered and unrepresentative. Public school kids and families need educational leadership that can represent their needs.

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Governor issues another executive order prohibiting vaccine mandates, adds issue to special session agenda

Gov. Greg Abbott at press conference with gesturing handsOn Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order prohibiting any “entity” from requiring vaccinations for “any individual,” including “employees and consumers.” That directive would cover private employers and school districts—including banning required vaccinations for school employees and students. This order is a reversal of course for the governor as he had explicitly stated private businesses should be allowed to mandate vaccines as recently as August. Also on Monday, the governor added this item to the special session agenda,

Abbott’s directive bumps against President Joe Biden’s executive order from last month mandating all employers with 100 or more workers to require vaccinations or a weekly COVID-19 test. While vaccine requirements have not been widespread, a handful of school districts and employers have begun requiring them for their workers. Abbott’s directive is yet another ill-advised edict that runs counter to giving entities flexibility in maintaining safe workplaces.

On Thursday, the State Supreme Court put a halt to San Antonio ISD’s requirement for all its staff and eligible students to be vaccinated (with exemptions allowed for medical and religious reasons). The deadline for the district’s requirement would have been today. The court’s opinion did not weigh in on the legality of the district’s mandate, but instead clarified what was allowed until legal battles over Abbott’s orders are resolved.

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Bridges Institute offers Mindfulness Essentials series

Color bar orange with text: Mindfulness Essentials
The Bridges Institute will be hosting the Mindfulness Essentials series via Zoom next month. The series started on Wednesday and will continue each Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., throughout the months of September and October. These free instructive webinars will help participants better understand their mind and emotions. CPE credit will be issued per hour of participation. Sign up for the webinars here.

In addition to the instructive webinars, The Bridges Institute will also host weekly practice sessions in which participants can take part in guided meditation. These sessions begin September 20 and occur on subsequent Mondays, from 6:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., throughout the months of September and October. Sign up for the practice sessions here.

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