With absolute control of the Texas House, Senate and the Governorship, Republicans in 2011 decided to slash $5.4 billion specifically dedicated to public school funding for the worst possible reason: because they could.
They had the votes and the hyper-partisan will to punish the state’s most precious asset – schoolchildren.
Chaos and economic hardship occurred even as GOP leadership insisted the cuts would not significantly affect operations. 10,000 teachers lost their jobs as a result of the decision, even as the statewide student population grew by 83,000. They claimed the cuts would force bloated school districts to operate more efficiently.
Despite the GOP leadership’s hollow words that the cuts would not significantly alter operations – a point clearly disputed when 600 school districts around the state sued Texas and won – the full negative impact is still being felt.
The facts are indisputable: An untold number of beneficial programs were slashed and a host of extracurricular activities, field trips, and other enrichment programs were all but eliminated.
Much of that funding, almost $4 billion, was put back into public schools, in part due to my efforts.
But even after the restoration, programs cuts still in effect include:
- $197 million from Texas’ pre-kindergarten program
- $14 million from the Reading, Math and Science Initiative
- $24 million from the Advanced Placement Incentive program.
The negative impact on the state’s school children from Tea Party politics has been disastrous. Lieutenant Governor-Elect Dan Patrick, the new president of the Texas Senate, has a long history of putting politics first and schoolchildren at the end of the line.
As a state Senator, Patrick voted for a budget that cut funding for schools by $5.4 billion dollars. Then, in the next legislative session, he voted against a budget that restored $3.93 billion to schools. This did not stop him from claiming that he led the way to restore the funding.
This claim is as ridiculous as it is false.
Earlier this year, the Austin American-Statesman‘s Politifact fact-checking website determined that Patrick’s “misstatement” was so egregious that it earned him the “pants on fire” designation, the column’s worst rating.
In 2013, I made it my top priority to restore as much funding as possible to public schools. I waited for 28 days at the beginning of the session for the GOP leadership to make restoring education funding a priority. Then, I went to the loneliest place in the Capitol, the back microphone of the Texas House of Representatives. I asked the Speaker of the House a simple question: When would this Legislature take up the school funding crisis as an emergency item?
My question forced the issue to the forefront and was key in shaping the coming debate. As a result of my push back, Speaker Joe Straus named me to a team that negotiated the $3.9 billion restoration.
Unlike others, I have learned that fighting for your constituents never takes you out of the discussion – it places you at the table where decisions are made.
Significant damage has already been done by the budget cuts.
Shortly after the cuts took effect, the Dallas Morning News reported in late 2011 the hit resulted in Texas dropping to 49th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in “spending per pupil in the U.S. … (Texas) is now more than $3,000 below the national average – about $66,000 less per elementary classroom – according to new comparisons by the National Education Association. Texas schools are spending $8,400 per student in the current school year – well under the national average of $11,455.”
The article noted that NEA figures “show that per-pupil spending in the state decreased $1,046 from the 2010-11 school year, when Texas ranked 41st among the states and D.C. The precipitous drop in the rankings follows the Legislature’s decision in 2011 to cut funding for public schools by $5.4 billion.”
The cuts also hurt Texas’ teachers. “Average teacher salaries in Texas also declined to $48,110 …38th, down four spots from (2010). Two years ago, before the funding reductions, Texas teachers ranked 31st in salary. The national average (in 2011) is $56,383,” the Morning News reported.
Even now, as Republican leaders continue denying their role in the problem they created, the issues looming for the state’s school children worsen.
A report on the impact education has on the state’s economic development released in November by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce raised serious concerns about how Latino children particularly are chronically unprepared for the future – and what the consequences will be for our state’s economic growth.
The study noted that almost one in four Latino students is unprepared to meet basic reading and math standards. This is not a small population of students. Latino children are currently an absolute majority of all school children and their population is projected to double by 2050.
The fewer Latino students receive a broad-based education, the fewer will successfully navigate college life and secure a degree. Fewer Latinos going to college impacts their earning capacity as well as the overall state economy.
Studies prove again and again that under-education of even a small sub-group, let alone the largest single component of today’s public school student population, results in dramatic losses in purchasing power, loss of corporate sales and profits – and a drop in tax revenue.
The report noted the disparity of a college education as opposed to a high school education in a 2012 study of 26,500 Latino men under the age of 25. Had they attended college, they would earn $1 million per person in additional wages over 40 years, meaning $1.2 billion in potential additional sales tax revenue.
Addressing the issue from an economic perspective, the study concluded: “The persistent under-education of even a small segment of Texans can result in dramatic losses of purchasing power, foregone earnings, loss of corporate sales, and loss of state sales tax revenue.”
That cannot be allowed to happen. This January, I will again make it my legislative priority to fully fund our public schools.
The state’s school children deserve nothing less.
*Featured/top image: Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Dist. 116) with Rep. Drew Darby (R-Dist. 72). Courtesy photo.