teacher associations

Attorney general joins the attack on educators


Attorney General Ken Paxton, who went to court to defend Texas’ very bad school finance system, is still attacking educators. He is doing so, I suspect, to try to keep himself relevant to right-wingers – his political base — as he awaits trial on securities fraud charges.

Although Paxton’s personal legal troubles have been keeping his lawyers busy, the attorney general found time to weigh in on the issue of whether teachers and other public employees should have the freedom to spend their own money as they please, by deducting their association or union dues from their paychecks, at no cost to taxpayers.

Paxton agrees with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that the long-standing practice should be stopped and has as much trouble telling the truth about the issue as Abbott and Patrick do.

Paxton’s name is on an oped, published in The Dallas Morning News, filled with errors and misrepresentations about the dues deduction issue.

“Protecting workers’ rights is one of the government’s most important jobs,” Paxton says in the first sentence. Then he spends the rest of the article defending the state leadership’s efforts to undercut workers’ rights.

Here are a few of his misrepresentations:

Paxton: Public employee unions “spend millions of dollars on partisan activities.”

The truth: Membership dues in TSTA and other public employee unions and associations in Texas are NOT spent on partisan political activities. Membership dues in TSTA and other organizations are spent on professional development, liability insurance and other job-related services. Political activities are conducted by political action committees, which are funded by separate, voluntary contributions, not dues money.

Paxton: “The Supreme Court has ruled that workers cannot be forced to make political donations.”

The truth: TSTA and other unions DON’T force members to pay dues or make political donations. Again, both dues payments and political donations to PACs are voluntary.

Paxton:  Public employees must “opt in if they want to contribute to a union.”

The truth: Workers already opt in if they want to join TSTA or another employee organization or union. If they wish, they also voluntarily choose to have their membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.  This is the practice that Senate Bill 13 – supported by Paxton, Patrick and Abbott – would discontinue for most public employees.

Paxton: Quotes  Abbott, “Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to support the collection of union dues.” Patrick also has claimed dues deductions cost taxpayers money.

The truth: Employees’ dues deductions essentially cost governments nothing,  according to the author of SB13, and a fiscal note that says the bill would provide no cost savings. And if there were any costs, current law would require unions and employee associations to reimburse school districts and other governments for any administrative costs.

Another truth: Automatic dues deduction is a secure and convenient way for educators and other public employees to pay membership dues to the organizations of their choice. Abbott, Patrick, Paxton and their allies are trying to punish educators and other employees for opposing bad legislation, including a bill to siphon tax dollars from public education for private school vouchers.

SB13, which has been approved by the Senate and is before the House, would let police, firefighters and EMS workers continue to have membership dues in their unions voluntarily deducted by their government employers.

Why? Because these groups are perceived as more politically friendly to the Abbotts, Patricks and Paxtons. That may be, but these employee unions also are fighting SB13 because they know this is an effort to single out employees for political punishment and they could be next.




If educators don’t hold legislators accountable for education policy, who will?


Few, if any, people get elected to state office in Texas without the votes of many educators. That may sound strange for a state that ranks a miserable 38th in per-student funding, but it’s true. It’s why we have a governor, a lieutenant governor and many legislators who only pretend to care about public schools and the children they serve.

Many of Texas’ 650,000 public school employees simply do not make education a priority when they cast their votes on Election Day, and that is their right. That also is the reason that many end up feeling cheated or ill-served when their classrooms remain under-funded, their students over-tested and enrollment in critical programs such as special education gets capped. It’s also why the governor and the lieutenant governor peddle the absolutely bad idea of private school vouchers while ignoring school kids’ real needs and are convinced they can get away with it.

“When will lawmakers get held accountable for their hand in this?” someone wrote this week on TSTA’s Facebook page.

That’s a good question, and the answer largely depends on educators – as well as the parents who don’t always vote in the best interests of their children’s educations either.

If you really want to start making a positive difference for public education and don’t know who your state senator and state representive are, then first things first. Click on this link, fill in your home address and under “district type” choose Senate and then House to find out who they are and how to contact them:


Then contact them. If you want more funding for your students’ or your children’s classrooms and less standardized testing, tell them. Tell them to invest some of the $12 billion in the Rainy Day Fund in our public schools. Tell them you live and vote in their districts. And if you don’t want them to spend your tax dollars on private school vouchers or education savings accounts or tax-credit scholarships (other names for vouchers), tell them that too.

If you are a TSTA member, regularly check our website and your email for legislative updates and alerts when critical votes are approaching, so you can contact your legislators again.

After the legislative session ends later this spring, and the dust settles – for good, bad or worse – on public schools, remember that next year will be an election year. TSTA will be endorsing candidates of both parties in a number of races – governor, lieutenant governor, the House and the Senate – on one issue, education, what they did or didn’t do for the educators and school children of Texas.

These records will be written in Austin over the next few months. Now, is the time for legislators to hear from educators and parents, and Election Day is the time for educators and parents to hold legislators and other state leaders accountable.




Teachers are good for business, but some businesses don’t get it


Teachers are good for business. We all know that, right? All of us, apparently, except members of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) or, at least, its Texas leadership in Austin.

NFIB, the group of small business owners, is one of the main drivers behind the anti-teacher, anti-public employee piece of legislation known as the dues deduction bill (SB13 in the Senate and HB510 in the House).

Yes, teachers are good for business. They and their families shop in the small businesses in their home communities, and they educate the future employees who will help many of these businesses continue to prosper.

Yet, the small business owners who belong to NFIB are literally biting the hands of the educators who help keep them in business by promoting legislation that is vindictive against educators and other public employees caught in the NFIB’s blind vendetta against organized labor in a right-to-work state.

The legislation wouldn’t affect businesses’ relationships with private labor unions at all, but it would harm educators’ First Amendment rights to have their voices heard without fear of reprisal when education policy is debated in the legislative arena. Many of these educators don’t even belong to unions. They belong to other educator groups.

NFIB and its allies are trying to do this through the legislation, mentioned above, which would prohibit educators and most other public employees from having their membership dues in professional organizations automatically deducted from their paychecks. The only public employees excluded from the bill are police, firefighters and other first responders. Their unions and associations, however, have joined TSTA and other employee organizations in opposing the bill because they know it is unfair and they could be added to it.

School districts, cities and counties have been routinely deducting membership dues — just as they do voluntary donations for charity and a number of other causes — from employee paychecks for years. The practice doesn’t cost taxpayers any money, it is safe and convenient for employees and the deductions are completely voluntary. Remember, no one has to belong to a union or any other employee association in Texas.

The bill, which also is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican leaders, was heard Monday by the Senate State Affairs Committee, which is expected to vote on it later this week.

Despite bill supporters’ claims to the contrary, Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, the bill sponsor, admitted in the hearing that the dues deduction practice doesn’t cost any governmental entity money. When asked why police, firefighters and other first-responders would still be allowed to practice dues deduction, she replied, “They don’t get involved in business issues.”

In other words, Huffman, a Republican, likes the generally conservative politics of many police and firefighters better than what she perceives the politics of teacher groups to be. She is trying to pick winners and losers under the Constitution.

Teachers run the gamut politically. Many are Democrats, and many others are Republicans and independents who are equally upset over Huffman and NFIB’s legislation. At least two Republican educators told Huffman how upset they were during Monday’s hearing.

Moreover, the only “business issues” in which educators get involved are issues — such as school funding and teaching practices – that are crucial to the future success of Texas. They also are critical to the continued success of all those NFIB members who now are attacking educators and other public employees, who also happen to be their customers.

What kind of business sense is that?




The Wall Street Journal lies; attacks teachers and workers


Ever since its purchase by a right-wing mega-millionaire with a history of being challenged by basic journalistic ethics, the Wall Street Journal has sometimes refused to let facts interfere with an editorial policy strongly tilted against the working class, the backbone of America, and it has done so again.

This time, school teachers and other public employees in Texas are in the crosshairs of a WSJ editorial that ran over the weekend, deliberately lying to the public about a bill that would end for most public employees in Texas the long-time practice of having their union or professional association dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

In its opening paragraph, the editorial implies the automatic deduction system is a “corrupt bargain between government and politicians,” when, in truth, it is nothing of the kind. It simply is a voluntary, convenient and secure way for teachers and other government workers to handle their membership dues.  For example, it provides more security against identify theft than an automatic funds transfer from a bank account.

In the vast majority of cases, the act of withholding membership dues doesn’t cost the government anything, and, if it does, existing law already provides a way for organizations to reimburse taxpayers. Consequently, no governing board, to my knowledge, has asked for the practice to be banned. In fact, the superintendent of Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, has been among many individuals and groups speaking out against the proposed change.

The Senate last week, nevertheless, approved Senate Bill 1968, which would ban automatic dues deductions for most public employees but only for selected organizations. Now, the Wall Street Journal is trying to put pressure on Speaker Joe Straus and the House, where similar legislation, so far, has gone nowhere.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are exempted from the bill. So they could continue to enjoy the convenience of automatic dues deductions while school and other municipal employees could not.  Various charitable organizations, including some tax-exempt groups that actively engage in politics, could also continue to have their dues automatically deducted.

Unions are the primary target of this legislation, which not only is unfair but also ludicrous in Texas, which has been a right-to-work state since 1947 and will remain one for a long time to come.

Here are a couple of other big lies from backers of the legislation.

CLAIM: Union membership dues are primarily used to finance political activity.

FACT: In truth, membership dues are given voluntarily and may not be used for political activities or campaign contributions. They are completely separate from the voluntarily contributions some union members make to a political action committee for political activities. And, some of the charitable organizations that would be untouched by the bill are heavily involved in right-wing, anti-consumer, anti-worker politics.

CLAIM: Unions work to elect only Democrats to public office.

FACT: In truth, the Texas State Teachers Association’s political action committee is bipartisan. It supports both Democrats and Republicans in state races and nonpartisan candidates in local school board elections. The TSTA PAC doesn’t evaluate candidates on their partisan affiliation, only on their commitment to public schools and students. And the PAC is supported by voluntary contributions from TSTA members, which are separate and in addition to membership dues.

CLAIM:  Unions “automatically dun workers for political causes those workers don’t support.”

FACT: In Texas, a right-to-work state, no one is “automatically dunned” or coerced by a union. Paying dues to an organization is completely voluntary.

The Wall Street Journal article is aimed at Texas, but the world it describes has precious little to do with the Lone Star State. It has everything to do, though, with the efforts of self-styled “free market” advocates to disrespect workers, including the people who teach their children, get them to school and back safely every day and ensure a safe and healthy learning environment.

What is at play here is a scorched-earth effort by the privileged one-percenters and others of their ilk to destroy the basic employment rights of workers in Texas and the United States, a selfish, greedy and short-sighted attitude that threatens to undermine the very social fabric holding our country together.