by BRAD ROLLINS
About 200 Hays County teacher’s union members and their supporters rallied on Saturday against forthcoming deep cuts to public school funding, calling the budget reductions unconscionable in one of the nation’s wealthiest states.
House Bill 1, passed by legislators the next day, funds education at $7.8 billion below what school districts were entitled to receive under 2006 school finance reform that sought to shift part of the burden from local property taxpayers.
In Hays CISD, administrators expect to lose as much as $24 million in funding over the next two years, translating to more than 100 eliminated positions including 31 classroom teachers, 18 instructional strategists, 18 campus technologists and 16 interventionists. Other Hays County school districts are faring better, as is the case in San Marcos CISD, where the current working plan eliminates a handful of positions but all employees are expected to keep their jobs through reassignments.
“We will not stand – our community will not stand – for proposed cuts that will cram students into crowded classrooms [and] cost 96,000 educators their jobs. These cuts will gut our schools and harm our childrens’ future,” said Esperanza Orosco, president of the Texas State Teachers Association’s Hays CISD chapter, in the opening salvo of this weekend’s raucous event. She was joined by representatives from the San Marcos, Dripping Springs and Del Valle teachers groups as well as a roster of local politicians, all of whom were no less scalding in protesting the education cuts.
“What we see here is a state that’s focused on how much we can move backward, how much we can slash. You talk about a rainy day. I don’t think this is a rainy day. I think it is a flood of wrong coming out of this state capitol,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. “If we are doing so great – if we’re seeing such success – why can’t we see that a little bit of the fruits of that success are used to make sure the young people of Texas have a future and have what they need in order to provide for their families.”
Much of the energy was directed at State Rep. Jason Isaac, who took jabs from Doggett and others for not attending Saturday’s rally. Isaac, who voted for the bill that establishes the state’s budget for the next biennium, said the House’s budget restored $2 billion to school funding over what had been originally proposed but conceded, “it’s still going to be a very daunting task to overcome those cuts.”
Still, he said the budget shortfall is real, not imagined.
“The money is just not there. We’re not going to print more money. We’re not going to go into deficit. We’re not going to pass new taxes. What my focus is looking at is ways to reduce the burden on local school districts and help them work through this mess as best as possible,” Isaac said.
Isaac said he is supporting various bills that would ease student-to-teacher ratios; give school districts the flexibility to reduce teacher salaries instead of being forced into layoffs; and waive standardized testing for one year when school districts attain exemplary or recognized status. He is opposing legislation to replace TAKS, the state’s current standardized test, with one that he said would require significantly more preparation time.
“I don’t think we should be preparing students to take a test. I believe we should be preparing them for the future,” Isaac said. (He added that he was unable to attend Saturday’s rally because he was comforting members of his Dripping Springs lacrosse program whose friend died last week.)
On Tuesday, a day after the House’s budget bill passed, legislative leaders were already sending out feelers about adding as much as $5 billion more to the $164.5 billion budget. House Appropriation committee chairman Jim Pitts said he’s consulting with House conservatives over whether they would accept increased spending over the next two years if additional projected revenue sources can be identified. Meanwhile, on the Senate side of the capitol, Finance committee chair Steve Ogden said the state needs to re-examine its school finance system — or face even more accute problems in two years.
“When you have a system where you have statute after statute that forces you to spend more and more money and then you enact statutes that require you to collect less and less in taxes, you’ve got a system that’s fundamentally unstable and sooner or later you’re gonna have to fix it. I would suggest we start soon,” Ogden told the Texas Tribune. (For more school finance coverage, see pages 1-4D).
That re-examination cannot come quickly enough for community members who state their unequivocal opposition to cuts of any size for public schools.
Said Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson, “If we do not continue to support education I would hate to know that the kids being educated 10 or 15 years down the road at Hays High School would not have the resources, would not have the education, to become mayor, to become managers, to become active and educated participants in their community. We need to make sure that never happens. … This will not stand.”Email | Print