If I didn’t know better, I might jump to the conclusion that Republicans are slashing education funds in Texas in order to grow an electorate dumb enough to keep them in office.
OK, that’s too harsh. But seriously, what do the Governor and his Republican allies not understand about the importance of public education? Poorly educated children and young adults not only cripple the social fabric of our state, they cripple the work force and the economy as well.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush wrote an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle last week against cutting education funds. And New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a scathing piece about the sorry state of our state, pointing out: “The birth rate there is the highest in the country, and if it continues that way, Texas will be educating about a tenth of the future population.” And not doing it very well.
Support for schools and colleges should be at the top of any budget priority, no matter how deep the crisis. And yet, the Republican leaders are floating a plan to slash nearly $10 billion from education when we can least afford those cuts.
Texas is already 50th in the nation of people 25 and older with a high-school diploma, and yet we are second (to California) in the nation in public school enrollment. Texas currently ranks 47th in the nation in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math SAT scores. Those are embarrassing statistics (from the Legislative Study Group) for a state that boasts of being the land of prosperity and opportunity.
The fact of the matter is we are way down the charts in per capita income and way up in the number of minimum-wage jobs. Does anyone really believe education and the economy are not related? The proposed draconian cuts to public education will threaten the future of Texas for decades to come.
We are facing teacher layoffs, bigger classes, fewer school days and drastic cuts to support services. In Austin alone, we are looking at eliminating 1,000 jobs within AISD (most of them teachers), closing nine schools and shifting grade levels at others.
Governor Perry has rejected new taxes and even refused $830 million in federal aid because Rep. Lloyd Doggett and other Congressional Democrats from Texas added language that would require the state to actually use the money for education and not to balance the budget (as happened last time).
As for the Governor’s preposterous scheme to serve up $10,000 college degrees, nobody in higher education believes that is even possible. Tuition and books for a single year easily add up to that amount, and tuition likely will increase in the face of state funding cuts.
There are alternatives to slashing billions of dollars from education, as the Center for Public Policy Priorities has stated, including an increase in so-called “sin taxes” on alcohol, tobacco and sugar-filled soft drinks. And, of course, there is the Rainy Day Fund, which is just sitting there apparently waiting to be used when Texas isn’t just rainy but flooded into total bankruptcy.
In the coming weeks and months I will update you on committee hearings and rallies at the Capitol in support of public education. I hope you will join me and our Democratic legislators in opposing these outrageous and unfair cuts to education. Let your voices be heard. The future of Texas is at stake.
Travis County Democratic Party Chair