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The Three Way Attack on Texas Public Education; Part One: Fiscal Responsibility

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When the fall semester begins in August, I will enter my 12th year as a public educator. I began as a high school social studies teacher and moved through college, certification, and promotion to become an elementary school principal. I have seen many changes to education in my short tenure but this coming school year will present many changes as well as challenges I have not yet seen nor could I have foreseen.

The Texas State Legislature wrapped up their special session this week ending a tumultuous six months in session. The session saw across-the-board cuts, debates over using the state’s $9 billion Rainy Day Fund, and no indication of raising taxes to meet the needs of students and the elderly for the coming biennial budget.

“This Legislature will go down in the history books as the worst for public education in a generation,” said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio. “Now it’s time for legislators to go home and explain to their communities why they voted for or against these historic education cuts.”

Through the cuts, particularly to education, it became evident that the issue was not only about fiscal responsibility, but also motivated by stresses placed on the state from immigration and growing opinions related to the injection of religion (through vouchers or charter schools) into our schools. For the first time in state history, education, which has been championed by legislative sessions in the past, was now being attacked, blamed, and snubbed due to excess fear related to three major issues for the 2010-11 session: fiscal responsibility, immigration, and charter schools/vouchers/homeschooling.

Fiscal Responsibility

The Tea Party asked for it and voted lawmakers into office who campaigned for it. Thanks to the workings of the federal government on both sides of the aisle, the voting populace voted for the kind of change  they could believe in and placed people in office to invoke fiscal responsibility.  The populace was tired of seeing tax dollars go out the window and they voted for politicians who would vow to protect taxes and government spending.

What this really meant for the voting public, this fiscal responsibility, was to cut government spending without raising taxes. When lawmakers entered Austin in January, they were faced with a $27 billion shortfall created by a structural tax deficit, created in 2006, a failed business excise tax, and a deflated housing market and recession. To balance this budget, the Republican majority senate and the super-majority Republican house, began hefty cuts to social services and state programs that overwhelm the budget. Two of the largest services in the state budget, public education and Medicaid, were expected to take the biggest hits in the next budget cycle.

After months of bills, committees, debates, and an eventual filibuster to stop potential cuts to public education, the state settled on a $4 billion slashing to the education budget which would touch the 1,024 school districts in the state on an average of about 6 percent (in some cases more) per district. For the first time in a long time, the State of Texas will choose to cut funding from education at a time when Texas is experiencing the highest population growth in the country. Under this current budget, public education will not receive enough funding from the state to adequately educate every student that will enter a school this fall semester.

This fear of government spending has now transcended into the public sector whereby what was once thought as a sacred cow, as represented from previous legislatures, is now under scrutiny and treated like every other government agency that overspends the taxpayer dollar. As such, the lawmakers in Austin did what they were sent to do: they cut government spending and did not raise taxes. In fact, they even failed to use the $9 billion Rainy Day Fund reserve for education (part of the fund was used to plug holes in the current budget deficit). After these things were completed, they did nothing more. The structural tax deficit was not corrected and the state did little to relieve school districts of the cuts they would be facing in their fall budgets.

The response has been, and will continue to be, an effort to seek local revenue to supplement the lost funds that will not be received from the state. One example, the Keller Independent School District, which sought a tax ratification election  of $0.13 in mid-June, lost by 17 percent of the vote to create that property tax revenue.  The election was largely lost due to a local uprising from a well-funded group known as the Keller Families for Fiscal Responsibility, a Tea Party organization that originated in the neighboring town of Southlake.

It will be this fear of government spending that has caused radical changes that most have not expected. At a time when oil prices are at an all time high, defense spending is higher than ever, yacht owners are receiving tax breaks, and taxes are continually cut, public services that we have taken for granted are becoming the new enemy. Welcome to the new era of fiscal responsibility.

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About DrJerryRBurkett

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    These cuts would produce zero hardship for teachers if local school districts were to cut administrators and overhead to make up for the reduced state funding. Instead the administrators cut teachers and increased class sizes and cut almost none of their own. Don’t blame the legislators for the cuts, blame your local school boards and superintendents for not doing the right thing.

    Dave

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    Yeah, like Dave says: Rich people are having a hard time, so liberals need to just stop their gripin’ and whinin’ about, you know, poor people and the struggling middle class and all.

    Any problems resulting from this slight $4 billion adjustment in the education budget are in no way the fault of the legislators; they’re just doing what they were elected to do: protect the privileged and screw the welfare state. Oh, you didn’t realize public schools were part of the welfare state? Screw you, commie.

    And by the way, Texas has the lowest percentage of people covered by health insurance in the US because Texans are, you know independent minded and all. Well, in a few cases, it’s ’cause they’re poor. But, you know, screw ‘em.

    Texas has lots of jobs, too. True, a large percentage of them are at minimum wage with no benefits, but are you gonna start your gripin’ again? Go live somewhere else, pinko, we like it like this.

    At least those of us who are, you know, white, and have money, and are Friends of Rick. Our kids go to private school anyhow.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Handy, what you said bore no resemblance to what I said, but whatever.

    If you really gave a damn about the poor and the middle class you’d support policies which reduce the crushing burden of taxation on them and on the corporations which provide jobs for them. But you’d rather have an army of people on the dole than have them employed in good jobs at fair wages.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    i’m quite sure, dave, that handy prefers “an army of people on the dole,” since we’re talking about what people actually have to say.

    “damn the middle class, crush jobs, tax the army on wages.”

    i can’t believe you just said that. nuts…

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    When there’s a budget crisis, in Minnesota or in Texas or in Washington, and ideologues refuse to consider tax revenues as even a small part of the solution, they have no basis for pretending it’s the other side being unreasonable.

    Dave responds to my attempt at satire with humorless ideology: All taxes…bad. All government aid programs…evil. If people suffer, ignore them. It can’t be our fault because our ideology is flawless and we never make mistakes.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    How, exactly, is there a “crushing burden of taxation” when Americans have a LOWER overall tax burden now than at any time in the past fifty years?

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    “Crushing burden” is not a mathematical calculation, just rhetoric.

    However, it is true that the recession is part of the reason for lower tax collection as a % of GDP. As business activity increases and as consumers spend more, there will be more tax revenue.

    It is nonetheless pigheaded nonsense to refuse to even consider a deficit reduction package that is partly revenue-based. The anti-tax mantra is like theology to the right. And as with God, its validity can’t be proven, but if you don’t believe you’re counted as one of the damned.

  • Dr. Jerry R. Burkett

    To handyguy:

    Just to be clear regarding this article as it pertains to Texas Public Education, the Texas State Constuturion guarantees funding for Texas schools. That guarantee is based on funding formulas this legislative season choosing to ignore. Therefore, our legislative body is in breach of the law under the ideological guise of fiscal responsibility. The next step will be court. These funding cuts do not adequately appropriate funds to meet the needs of the growing student population and have not since 2006.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    That makes it even worse. Immoral.

    When I hear Rick Perry brag about his “accomplishments,” I cringe. [When I hear Rick Perry say anything at all, I cringe; his ludicrous exaggerated cowboy accent and cocky attitude are just nauseating.]

    And when I hear him say, “We do have a few unhappy people in Texas. We usually refer to them as liberals,” it is clear how separated from reality he is.

    I have read that many Texas Tea Party activists despise him as well. If so, good on them. But the fact that Dave is so willing to unequivocally defend the cuts in education spending and to say, in effect, “Just get over it,” is not encouraging.

  • Kim Thompson

    Dave, cuts have been made to ISD administration and overhead, with more to come. But, it still won’t be enough. The lege has essentialky defunded eduction. In face, all of the highly paid superintendents we hear about could go a year without pay and it wouldnt even make a dent in this crisis. I rightly place the blame for this at the feet of the legislature where it belongs. They played a little shell game with property taxes in 2006 that resulted in the then comptroller declaring Slick Rick Perry had
    just written the biggest “hot check” in Texas history. She was right and the kids in Texas will now suffer for it.

    Further, as someone that works in business, I appreciate your concern for our level of taxation (or lack thereof in Texas). However, let me remind you that an uneducated hiring pool is like business repellant. Top employers will quickly abandon this state if you can only supply uneducated ranch hands, hillbillies, and yahoos. If you think education isn’t important in the business world, try asking all of the Fortune 500 employers in Mississippi their thoughts on the importance of education to economic growth. What? Tthey don’t have any Fortune 500 or even 1000 employers in their state. Oh. Behold the future of Texas if the evil reign of King Rick and his tea party cronies continues.

  • Clavos

    Further, as someone that works in business…

    …someone who, teach.

    …if you can only supply uneducated ranch hands, hillbillies, and yahoos….

    That pretty much describes a substantial portion of what US public schools have been churning out for decades now — even with ever-increasing amounts of money thrown at them. Most public universities now find themselves having to run classes in remedial grade school English for many of their incoming students.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com/ handyguy

    Certainly, simply spending more doesn’t guarantee high-quality results. [Neither does spending less.]

    Draconian cuts to the education budget just because legislators have a taboo about taxes — well, that doesn’t sound like the work of well-educated people, either.