This spring, the Texas legislature, led by Governor Rick Perry, has committed assault against the students and teachers of the state of Texas — a state which already is 44th in the nation in its funding of education.
Draconian budget cuts were threatened from the beginning of the session as lawmakers realized there would be a substantial budget shortfall(largely brought on by the Governor’s and legislature’s decision to reduce property taxes in 2006) and as Tea Party affiliated candidates funded by outside groups took an overly predominant role.
At the beginning of the legislative session, Governor Perry declared several items as emergencies, including sanctuary cities, abortion legislation, and more. But not education funding, despite being one of the biggest budget items in the state. So the best the legislature could do was put bandaids on the current system, basically making it easier to cut education services. They proposed bills that allowed districts to eliminate minimum teacher salaries, increase class sizes and lay off teachers more easily — not because the teachers aren’t qualified, but because the state is cutting funding. These bills erased decades of improvements made to Texas schools.
This past weekend, in a last minute filibuster that halted the hastily cobbled together education budget bill, Arlington, Texas Senator Wendy Davis spent an hour reading aloud letter after letter from constituents concerned about education. There were letters from parents, grandparents, special education students, teachers, librarians and more. These voters know what this is about — it’s not about improving education and it’s not about education reform. It’s about underfunding education; it’s about turning their backs on local communities who may have to raise property taxes, on parents who hold constant fund-raisers to support their schools and even pay for teacher positions, on the students of this state whose college grant monies have been cut as well. It’s about posturing in the face of a budget crisis, blaming it on the “will of the voters,” meanwhile ignoring the will of the voters at the same time.
Now the Texas legislature finds itself in a special session as they attempt to address school finance again. But the over-emphasized influence of newly elected Tea Party candidates has prevented legislators from listening to the more reasoned voices of parents, teachers and students around the state, who are not part of a high-dollar, well-funded advocacy campaign, but individuals, pleading for the funds to provide a quality education for their children. The discomfort some legislators in both parties are beginning to feel about education budget cuts in the proposed budget last week was made clear in the final vote, which found people on both sides of the aisle voting against it.
In fact, polls of the state show that voters are torn almost equally between cutting government funding and saving education and Medicare funding; there is not an overwhelming majority on either side, despite the claims of conservative groups like Empower Texas who are intimidating legislators with their “rating” system.
And now as the special session begins a tweet from the floor of the House today indicated that Republicans hope to hurry education funding through before teachers get out of school at the end of this week. And Senator Dan Patrick tells Texas Monthly that he envisions this cut (proclaimed by some to be temporary) to be permanent:
“That is a true cut to government spending in the long term. This will save us $4 billion forever moving forward and begin to close the structural gap we have in education.”
That’s a permanent assault on education in a state that ranks 44th in the nation in education funding, yet is the 2nd fastest growing state for students under 18.
There are many consequences to this budget. One of the most agonizing for me to witness as a life-long educator is the message we are sending about education to our students and future teachers: In a state with a rapidly growing population, we are running new teachers out of the field by laying off new hires, discouraging a generation of college students from pursuing careers in education, and encouraging our most experienced and qualified teachers to retire early. What will this mean for the future of our classrooms as more and more students enter our state? Where will we find ourselves five years from now when we can’t fill classrooms?
It’s time for parents, students and educators around the state to demand and expect this legislature to come up with viable solutions to education funding. We need to show them we are listening, we are informed and we will be voting. And the legislators who have little taste for this budget need to stand up and find the political courage to speak out against special interests who, as Texas Monthly rightfully points out, have co-opted the grass-roots Tea Party movement to run over the voices of the general public.
It’s up to each of us to speak up about the importance of education in every state across the nation, because the situation in Texas is being repeated in multiple states like Pennsylvania. But as parents, students, educators, grandparents — we have a voice. We cannot let this happen. We need to lift up our voices against this assault on education loud and clear. We expect our students to be innovative, creative, and capable of finding solutions to problems. Shouldn’t we expect the same from our legislators? There is a third way, and we need to help our legislators find it.
Notet: This blog post has also been submitted to the Huffington Post.
Postscript: (In the 24 hours since this post was written, the Senate finance committee met, passed the Senate finance bill out of committee, and held hearings on SB8 to cut teacher salaries, provide for furloughs, eliminate class size restrictions, etc. and schools in the local area are just letting out this week. The rumors that this would be rushed through before educators could get there to testify has materialized, evidently. Sample quotes from today’s hearings provide a glimpse of the thinking on adequately funding public schools- (via Twitter): Sen. Ogden–“We’re not cutting school budgets….we’re not providing as big of an increase as they think they’re entitled to.” and Sen. Shapiro “the definition of fully funding [public schools] is in the eye of the beholder.”)
4 thoughts on “An assault on Texas education?”
I find myself wondering what our representatives in Austin value above the children. I’ll be watching the “Rainy-Day-Fund” to see what they believe more worthy than education.
Thanks for all that you have been doing Carolyn.I still like the quote from the article I read about a month ago “There aren’t enough guts in the Texas Legislature to draw a crowd of buzzards.” Simply shameful what they have done.
As you’ ve clearly pleaded your case, allow me to reinforce a few things from what I see:
As members of the house clearly see, teachers are too busy to fight because they are stuck in their places of responsibility educating the children of their communities. Teachers do not have the luxury of gathering the troops to fight at a moment’s notices as the House swings their collective yo-yos over their heads waiting for calculated opportunities to best suit their budget cutting agendas. The fact that gatherings should happen and fights ought to be fought are clear, but the fights cannot come from only the teachers whose classrooms and livelihoods are affected. I cannot understand why nor get my brain wrapped around why we don’t see nor hear the thousands of parents and community members being affected by these budget cuts. The insane message this lack of involvement sends is that the measures taken in the House are acceptable, and therefore, justifiable. Where’s the “Don’t tread on me!” cries of the communities? Where’s the fight of parents whose children’s lives, futures, and fortunes, will be forever changed?
It is this lack of fight that drives jobs to distance shores, because our politicians will take care of it all for us!
After almost being killed in an oil field accident and living the life of a vagabond, skipping from oil patch to oil patch, I decided to complete my education. I grew tired of the stresses involved with working long hours and streaches without a day off. I reasoned that teaching would offer a much needed break from the strain of such a life while giving me a sense of authentic accomplishment. After my first, and every year since, I have ralized that I had half the equation right. I have certainly found the sense of accomplishment and experience it everytime I touch a student’s life. The stress, however, is at least twice as prevelant in my second-chosen field. Almost all of this comes from what common sense tells me is the inefficient and ineffective ways we manage education in a state (and nation) that has no business making the claim that it leaves no child behind. Even if my Great State of Texas ranks 44th on dollars spent per student, I believe what we spend would be more than enough if it were spent wisely. Never in my fourty years did I ever immagine the time would come when we’d be having this conversation; the one that speaks of cutting teacher pay while increasing their workload and making it easier to lay them off. What has happend to the reverence this land once held for the educator? I, for one, am commited to my students and will ride this storm out as best I can. This, however, does not mean I will take it lying down. My voice will be heard on the steps of Texas State Capitol and at the voting booth.