March 12th rally in Austin Texas seeks to push back on state efforts to increase classroom size and cut teachers and curriculums from schools as the battle to balance the budget confronts the educational needs of our state
We were 12,000 strong. Students, teachers, parents and other educational advocates like myself traveled to the Texas capitol of Austin this last Saturday to show strength in numbers. It was our hope to change the thinking of the Governor and the conservative legislators who have put a heavy burden on school districts across the state to make even deeper cuts to their teaching staff in order to help balance a budget deficit that the lawmakers’ lack of foresight in part created.
Our goal was to persuade them to change their collective minds about not using the states $9.2 billion “rainy day” fund to help with this crisis in order to avoid layoffs that would only add to the state’s 8.3 unemployment rates, one of the highest in nearly 25 years. The “rainy day” fund, formally known as the Economic Stabilization Fund was established in 1988 and gets its revenue from taxes and royalties on the state’s oil and natural gas industries. It was specifically designed for natural disasters emergency relief and to help budget shortfalls during economic hard times, much like the state is enduring now, along with the rest of the nation.
It’s suspected that the governor and some of his alliances in the legislature would rather use some of this revenue for incentives to lure businesses to Texas, even though a special arrangement was established for this very purpose in 2003 known as the Texas Enterprise Fund. They argue that using the rainy day fund will not ultimately fix the long-term problems claimed to be heavily weighted toward public sector spending on education and the State’s Medicaid/Medicare program. Generating revenue from taxes is not an option they are willing to consider.
Some signs in the crowd seemed to reject the notion that Texans would be opposed to raising taxes in order to provide a quality education for their children. “Raise My Taxes” several signs read while others condemned the poor choice of reducing property taxes back in 2007 that generated the budgetary shortfall affecting school districts originally. The demographics of the crowd reflected the Texas population with young and old of every ethnicity known to the state. Mother’s were toting their children who are at the education threshold and grandparents were there to insure that their grandchildren would receive a quality education for their futures.
All gathered at the steps of the state capitol to listen to guest speakers from the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, to 6th grader Dalton Sherman from Dallas who appealed to the state leaders to preserve what we had without any further cuts. There was entertainment from a student hip-hop group called “The Cipher” and gospel music from the Clifton J. Ozen Magnet School choir from Beaumont.
It remains to be seen whether our efforts will have an impact but though the event is over, the effort by many of us continue. Like the state employees in Wisconsin who also find themselves in conflict with a GOP governor and legislative majority, there is a stubborn contingent that continue to battle forces that appear bent on promoting corporate interests over the needs of the larger state constituency. In both states public polls reveal that there is strong support for union forces in Wisconsin and support for teachers in Texas.
National polls also reflect a general feeling among voters that there is too little spending, not too much, that needs to be addressed in areas of education, health and the environment. These are areas that tend to be castigated by extreme elements of right-wing politics. Groups like the Tea Party have promoted the notion that tax supported efforts such as these are the cause of our economic hard-times. Yet the record is pretty clear that these were only issues of concern after the financial industry in this country was caught with their pants down in 2007 and early 2008, robbing the savings and investment entrusted to them by many Americans.
The rally in Texas as with other states around the country is showing a reinvigorated grass-roots energy that was there in 2008 but dwindled as the crushing effects of job losses and home foreclosures pushed many into despair. This despair was exploited by Astroturf groups such as Americans for Prosperity and funded by wealthy corporate interests like the Koch brothers and media empire of Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp which owns FOX news.
It’s a David and Goliath battle where vast sums of money usually have the upper hand. But even though this factor was aided by the Supreme Court’s unfortunate ruling in Citizens United it appears you can only promote an illusion so far. Each action by those who oppose the public sector reveals a corporate motive that seeks to squelch off the strength of grass-roots programs that work to benefit less powerful, less wealthy groups.
It behooves us all to take a closer look at candidates who choose to criticize plans like education funding, social security and improving health care and see if what they offer has any real value for those other than their own self-interests and the profit margins and bonuses of large wealthy businesses.
- Thousands march on Capitol to protest potential education cuts (chron.com)
- Rainy Day Fund drawing more support (chron.com)