Sunday, March 13, 2011

Save Texas Schools Rally At The TX Capitol

Updated Sunday March 13, 2011 @ 1:51pm

The Save Texas Schools organization held a rally and march at the State Capitol on Saturday March 12, 2011. An estimated eleven thousand parents, teachers, students, community members, business owners, and faith organizations converged on the Capitol to voice their opposition to draconian education cuts planned by Gov. Perry and the Republican controlled legislature. Event organizers said they ran out of the 11,000 stickers they brought to hand out to the participants.

In addition to tapping the Rainy Day fund, rally-goers urged Gov. Rick Perry to sign the application for the $830 million currently tied up in a political fight in Congress from the federal Education Jobs fund. They also asked Texas lawmakers to fix the state’s public education funding mechanism.

The organization had called the Austin rally saying, "the proposed legislative cuts to public education funding are unacceptable. If you agree, stand with us at the capitol on March 12 to say YES to a strong public education system that supports our children, our communities and our future."

Over the past decade Gov. Perry and Republican controlled Texas legislatures have cut public school spending to the bone and now they are moving to amputate it all together. The state Comptroller, Susan Combs, said Texas tax revenues are short by $27 billion, more than one-quarter of the state’s discretionary budget, of which about 91 percent is consumed by public schools, higher education, and health and human services.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities projects that as many as 189,000+ public education related jobs will be eliminated in Texas. Almost 14,000 public education related jobs may be eliminated in Collin Co.

Texas already spends less per capita than almost any other state and Texas has a dropout rate approaching thirty percent. Texas Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden -- a Republican who Rick Perry has described as the smartest budget man he knows, and someone he implicitly trusts with the budget -- warned the proposed budge cuts will "decimate public education."

Texas Republicans would rather put our children's future at risk than allow corporations to pay their fair share to help build the well educated workforce Texas businesses need to prosper in the future.
Cutting $10 billion from Texas' education budget is a short-sighted move that puts the future of the state and its citizens in jeopardy. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro said, "We have more people coming to Texas from all over the nation than ever before. What that means is that we have a choice to make: We can choose to invest in the future or choose to close our eyes and make bad decisions."

The popular nonpartisan Texas-wide support of the 'Save Our Schools' movement provoked a press release from the conservative activist group Americans For Prosperity, who called the Texas-wide movement a “front for unions” and “raising taxes."
“Save Texas Schools is a liberal group posing as a non-partisan, education advocacy organization,” said Texas state director Peggy Venable in a statement, adding, “We can cut education spending without cutting instruction or teachers. But educrats are calling in all of their forces to oppose any education cuts.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Austin-based conservative think-tank that supports making cuts to public education funding, also issued a statement on the rally. “The concerns about job security of the teachers attending today’s rally are understandable,” said education policy analyst James Golson, “While no one should be completely immune from budget reductions in this tough fiscal cycle, teachers should certainly not be the first cuts — as too many school districts have proposed.”

Gov. Perry echoed those conservative sentiments at a news conference on state sovereignty last week. Perry said local districts, not the state, deserve the blame if $10 billion in cuts to public education results in any teacher layoffs. "The lieutenant governor, the speaker and their colleagues aren't going to hire or fire one teacher, as best I can tell," he said. "That is a local decision that will be made at the local districts."
Perry urged districts to first cut non-teaching and administrative positions, which he said districts have added in dramatic amounts over the past decade. "Are the administrators and the school boards going to make a decision to reduce those, or are they going to make a decision to reduce the number of teachers in the classroom?" he said. "I certainly know where I would point."
But, as the Texas Tribune's Morgan Smith recently reported, education groups dispute conservative claims of such administrative bloat.

"We're baffled by Governor Perry's comments," said Dax Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Texas Association of School Boards. "Let there be no mistake that the decisions being made in school districts across the state regarding budget cuts and teacher layoffs are the direct results of decisions ... at the state Capitol."

Local school officials echoed the criticism of conservative claims that Texas public schools are bloated by administrative cost excesses.

"It is easy to deflect responsibility and put the blame on school districts," Mark Williams, president of the board of the Austin Independent School District, told the Austin American-Statesman. "We are the ones that have to make the tough calls. Someone has to balance the budget."
Bus drivers, janitors, school nurses, cafeteria staff and other so-called auxiliary "administrative" positions make up more than a quarter of public school jobs, according to state data.

Almost half of the state's more than 661,000 public education employees are not teachers, and most of the non-teachers are so-called auxiliary personnel — janitors, cafeteria workers and bus drivers who on average make less than $23,000 a year, according to Texas Education Agency data from 2009-10. The same data indicate that the ratio of teaching to non-teaching positions has remained about the same for the past 15 years.

Peggy Venable , director of the Texas chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, says it's time for that to change.

"We have to do a better job of educating our children with less," she said. "If there's one non-teaching staffer for every teacher in our school districts, you bet we can cut significant spending without cutting teachers, without cutting classroom instruction."

Jenny Caputo , spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Administrators, said classroom instruction is just one piece of the puzzle.

"Clearly that's the most important thing, but somebody has to get (students) to that classroom; someone has to register them in the front office; someone has to feed them lunch every day," Caputo said.

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