Few people would argue that our children’s education is one of the premier goals a society can foster to ensure a better life for their kids while creating a productive work force for the future. Yet in Texas it often seems to be an after thought by Republicans who seem more willing to cover for their corporate buddies by thwarting the EPA or Christian fundamentalist who would re-write American history to fit Old Testament prophecy. This point is driven home with the data that shows Texas ranks near the bottom of all other states in critical categories:
- Texas is #49 in verbal SAT scores in the nation and #46 in average math SAT scores
- Texas is #36 in the nation in high school graduation rates (68%).
- Texas is #33 in the nation in teacher salaries.
- Texas dropped to 40th in 2005 from 26th in 1999 for average per pupil expenditure
- Texas is #6 in the nation in student growth. A number not commensurate with a teacher growth rate of only 13.3%. SOURCE
The state has the highest number of public operating schools in the country and is second only to California with the highest public school enrollment. And for this we are churning out the fewest high school graduates than any other state. Anyone paying rudimentary attention to basic economic factors would have noticed this along with the steady increase in the rate of inflation over the last decade, with energy costs having the greatest impact.
Yet the limited wisdom of the state budgeting committees apparently failed to weigh these common sense considerations when they estimated future budgets. Surely someone also had to consider that the ups and downs of national and global economies were always shaky at best and yet, instead of showing foresight and planning for these contingencies, the Republican-led legislature of 2007 lowered property tax rates that fund school districts while increasing gas and cigarette taxes to substitute for this loss of revenue.
Gas prices were slowly inching up in 2007 and by the summer of 2008 they hit record highs of $4.00 a gallon at the pump. In this oil-rich state did they not have anyone on their payroll that watches such price fluctuations and how it impacts payroll taxes? Research has shown that as you raise the cost of anything, like cigarettes (study shows fewer teens taking up smoking) and gasoline (automakers offering more models that run on alternative fuels and use less gasoline), you provide an incentive for people to quit using that product or to seek substitutes that offset those price increases.
So here we sit in 2011 with the biggest deficit in Texas history and the people who have essentially effected this budget shortfall want to lay the responsibility of dealing with it on the backs teachers. At least one governor in this country, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, feels that “politicians, who aren’t any good with money, [shouldn't] demagogue and blame the people that actually do the work. It’s just not good business management, it’s not a good way to run the state”
The one thing the legislature did have the foresight to do was set up a “rainy day” fund, also known as the Economic Stabilization Fund. It is essentially a back-up source of revenue derived from oil and natural gas tax excesses, which have fortunately been climbing over the last decade.
There is currently about $9 billion in this fund that would seriously aid in preventing a lot of teacher layoffs and dumping more kids into fewer classrooms. This and some sensible tax increases would abate the need to put more people in the unemployment lines that are already too long in this state.
But once again the cave men who head our government, Rick Perry and David Dewhurst, have displayed a lack of concern for the “small people” in the state by refusing to consider using these funds. Perry lamely explained why in his State of the State address on February 8th, informing Texans that he sees this approach as one that “would not only postpone tough necessary decisions, but also leave us ill-equipped to handle bigger emergencies in the future”.
This leaves you with the impression that they are at least thinking or have thought about future emergencies, yet for some reason, the budget crisis we’re facing today was not all that clear to him and others a few years ago. And are we really going to buy that bit about not confronting “tough necessary decisions” as if we have no other options other than draconian cuts that will keep Texas education at the bottom of the heap?
What about returning the property tax level back to where it was before they were cut in 2007? I know many of us would make that sacrifice for our children. And with all the record profits that our oil and natural gas industry has experienced in the last couple of years, couldn’t we ask them to make a sacrifice for the sake of our children’s future too? How about those tax cuts for 40, 000 businesses Perry’s campaign gloated about in the last election? I think the case could be made for some of them, especially the bigger, more profitable ones ante up to help ensure tomorrow’s labor force has 21st century skills.
And if push still comes to shove there are some cuts in Texas school districts budgets that could be taken without jeopardizing our kids’ education. Steve Murdock, a Rice University sociology professor and the former state demographer who served as U. S. Census Bureau director in the George W. Bush administration, thinks eliminating high school sports, especially football, could offset a large expense for most districts. I know this is blasphemy to those who see athletics, especially football, solely as a cash cow but they have to generate that money to pay for exorbitant coaches salaries.
In 2006, “Head coaches in Classes 5A and 4A – schools with 950 students or more – [were] making an average of $73,804 while teachers in those classifications average close to $42,400, according to records obtained by the Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act. Adjusting for inflation, the gap between teachers’ and coaches’ salaries has widened by 7.3 percent over the past 10 years. (Texas High School Coaches Salaries by A. Trubow, Austin Statesman, 11/29/06)
Athletics have value in our educational system but not to the extent that supersedes the long-term gains one gets from a quality education that will pay off more in the global markets of tomorrow. If this is asking too much for some, then die-hard high school sports devotees should be willing to pony up for increased ticket prices and product sales at many athletic events. Most may grumble but few would be reluctant to miss games for an additional dollar or two. In tough times like we are facing now, these so-called cash cow sports can help carry their schools instead of being a factor in why some people stay as others are cut.
I am simply blown away how passive Texas parents seem to be when it comes to cutting state funding for education. Though a recent UT-Texas Tribune poll found that an overwhelming majority of Texans oppose cuts to education, health care and environmental protection, many think this can be done by making spending cuts only instead of a combination of sensible cuts and tax revenue increases. Too many have simply bought in to the big lie by Republicans that our predicament is solely the result of too much spending.
No one seems to mind or care when tax payer funds go out to businesses to subsidize ventures without any assurance that they will succeed. Yet the meager amount we are currently spending for good education is a sure return on our investment for our children’s future. We lag behind most other states in expenditure per pupil so it seems only logical that by cutting back even further will keep us as a third-rate provider of primary education.
On Saturday March 12th, 12 noon in Austin Texas, parents, teachers and other education advocates are rallying on the steps of the capital to tell our representatives that we need alternatives to these planned cuts. They need to hear loud and clear that not only should they use that $9 billion rainy day fund for this crisis but they need to come to grips with the reality that Texas’ schools still remain at the lowest rungs of education excellence in this country. Now is not the time we need to be making cuts in education.
For more on the March 12th rally in Austin go to the Save Texas Schools Website at http://savetxschools.org/rally-to-save-texas-schools/
- The Ax Man Cometh (Again) to Texas (woodgatesview.wordpress.com)
- Leaving Children Behind (by Paul Krugman)