By Dana Rathbun
2011 has marked a historical change in funding for education in Texas. As it
was discovered that the state of Texas had a $27 billion dollar deficit to remedy,
legislators found a solution in shrinking spending on one of the most important
areas. Budget cuts for the education fund are significant because this is the first
time in over 60 years that spending per student is being decreased. In addition,
funding for student financial aid was also slashed, with combined reductions of over
5 billion total. These actions have deeply affected Texas students and teachers with
layoffs, over-crowded classrooms, and closure of many schools, and the outcry is
blaring. There are lawsuits pending against the state with growing plaintiffs. The
impressive rallies of thousands against these cuts in education funding as a means
to balance the budget send a message that Texans do not agree with the plans of
the legislature. However, these lawsuits can take years and while rallies make the
message heard, it should be more forceful. Texans need to make their voices heard
at the voting booths.
To get a clear view of the current situation, I interviewed Clay Robison, a spokesman
of the Texas State Teachers Association. The TSTA is apart of a recent lawsuit as an
indictment of Governor Rick Perry and the legislative majority over school finance.
1). Q.What are the goals expected to come out of this lawsuit and why now? What was the ‘last straw’?
A. Well, this lawsuit will take years to go through and it is not the first one, and won’t be the last. School funding is based on two things: state tax revenue and local property taxes. Recently, though the funding is shifting towards being based more heavily upon the local property taxes. This leads to gaps in funding for schools located in areas where the homes are worth less. Other schools in wealthier areas can make up the gap with their higher property taxes. The ‘Robin hood’ law is not very popular and has been used lately to take those taxes from wealthier districts and give it to the poorer districts to make up their costs.
The so-called straw that broke the camel’s back was during the last legislative session earlier this year when they cut 5.4 billion in budget cuts for school funding and funding for student loans. The formula for calculating the funding in the budget involves allocating enough funds for the amount of new student population. Recently, the new student population for Texas grows by around 80,000 a year. That is enough to populate a single new school district! So when these deep budget cuts were passed, it was the first time in 60+ years that the budget did not accommodate for the new population.
Right now there are about 300 school districts as plaintiffs tied into another lawsuit against the state. Other plaintiffs include parent and more are expected to jump on this lawsuit as well. There is will probably be even another lawsuit added to these, brought on by the wealthier schools districts, stating that the state doesn’t spend enough on ANY school district, including them in the mistreatment.
The goal of the TSTA lawsuit is to give the legislation a deadline to deal with this problem and fix the outdated tax system.
2). Q. The press release stated that “The Texas Teachers Association is confident our courts will be guided by the Texas Constitution, not by anti-government ideologues…” Can you please provide an example as to what you mean by ‘anti-government ideologues’?
A. For example The Tea Party and conservative legislators like Rick Perry, but I want to remind you that this is the view of the TSTA. They want smaller government and act like any type of new taxes and tax reform is bad. Rick Perry has been a life long politician and he gets up there running for president speaking like he has never set foot in a government office. They want to run as anti-establishment and anti-tax and that is what they have been elected to do. To fight tax increases.
At the beginning of the year, Texas faced a budget deficit of 27 billion and 1/10 of that was made up of the deficit from the school budget. Their grand idea of making up for this is to shrink government and cut the budget where we need it the most; in education. By firing teachers and other school employees, make classroom size larger instead of fixing the problem. But this is part of their anti-government ideology. Rick Perry left millions in the ‘rainy day fund’ which is supposed to be for emergencies and I think what we had this year qualifies as one.
Q. Why would he do that?
A. To say he did such a great job balancing the budget that he had leftover money in the rainy day fund and help his campaign.
The Texas Constitution states that it is the within the rights of citizens that the state provide for efficient education and currently, they are not doing that. This is the main reason for the lawsuit.
3). Q. How helpful, if voted for and enacted, will the new school funding/education loans propositions currently on the ballot prove to be in regards to the current problem?
- It will have very little impact and barely any help. The whole system is out dated and needs to be revised.
4). What types of actions can us as students and citizens contribute to aid the success of this cause? In the short-term? In the long-term?
Q. Well, I would say stay informed. Ask questions like you are doing right now. When you are informed, VOTE for the people that with really help education. And remember, not everyone who says they are running for education is really for education. Nobody runs against education when they are campaigning. You have to check their records. Stay engaged to the issues and what is important and which candidates are proven to do what is important.