I'm not fond of some of the budget cutting that is going to happen in school districts around the state of Texas because of state budget issues this year. I've got friends who have lost their jobs, and know others who are "on the bubble" in their schools and districts. I don't like some of the solutions being proposed to provide "flexibility" to school districts, because they will invariably hurt kids and teachers while not getting to the real structural problems in school districts. So for just a moment, I was intrigued by an idea put forth by a Democrat -- even though it was voted down.
Representative Gallego presented a plan that would have allowed schools to stay open, save teachers' jobs, and keep children learning. The plan doesn't strip money away from any other program, and it doesn't raise taxes or create new taxes.
Instead, it would fund schools until 2013 - when the Legislature would be back in session. As they usually do, lawmakers would pass a supplemental spending bill to close the gap. At that time, they could take a look at funding those extra few months. Our revenue picture is improving: sales tax collections are up, and we have reason to believe the economy is improving.
Schools all over the state are threatened with closure, teachers are being fired, school boards don't know how they're going to pay the bills. They could use the reassurance that this innovative plan would bring - it's a shame that Republicans in the House didn't want to give them that.
Interestingly enough, no one can provide any links to the actual proposal -- the closest I can get is this on Facebook from the Texas Democrat Party.
Democrat Pete Gallego offers amendment that would fully fund schools for 21 months and save 100,000 school employee jobs. Amendment voted down by House Republicans.
And therein lies the problem. The amendment simply created a way for THIS legislature to dodge its responsibility by not fully funding Texas schools for the full biennium. Instead, the proposal called upon the legislature to punt,leaving it to legislators two years from now to make the hard choices. The Texas Tribune offers this in its liveblog of the budget debate.
Aycock accuses Gallego's self-dubbed "Save Our Schools" amendment — which would move money allotted to the second year of the biennium to the first year, with the hopes that the Lege will come up with more money in the next session — of "frontloading."
And Rep. Aycock is correct. Pete Gallego wanted to adopt a HOPE & CHANGE solution -- by having legislators HOPE that the teetering Obama Economy will CHANGE over the next two years and money will magically appear in the state treasury to close the gap.
The problem,of course, is that there is no way of knowing what will actually happen in two years -- and if the money isn't there in 2013, the reality will be that instead of cutting 100K teachers (under the worst-case scenario) we will need to cut even more in order to make up the unfunded budget gap for this biennium AND the whatever shortfall exists for the following biennium. Anybody want to see 150K teachers cut? How about 200K? Unless, of course, the goal is simply to dig a hole so deep that in two years there have to be tax increases of the sort that this state has never seen.
Of course, those are the tactics of the liberal side -- but folks on the conservative side are too often engaged in some of the same tactics and other stuff that is just as bad.
For example, despite the fact that the so-called "rainy day fund" -- actually the Economic Stabilization Fund -- was created to be used in situations precisely like the one we are in, it has become an article of faith among some in the GOP that it must not be used for that purpose. Unfortunately, those taking this position include the Governor, the Speaker, and the bulk of the folks from the Tea Party. Their presumption is that ONLY cuts can be considered -- that any efforts to raise new revenues through taxes are illegitimate and merely feeding bloated government. This includes the creation of entirely new revenue streams -- in a recent exchange with one prominent Tea Party activist (a candidate for state representative in 2010), I discovered that she opposed legalizing casino gambling in Texas based upon the fact that the industry would provide more tax revenue to the state!
Unfortunately, there are some real solutions that are not being discussed. While everyone is talking about cutting teachers, eliminating the minimum salary schedule, allowing salary decreases or furloughing teachers, no one seems interested in capping the number of district administrators in school districts (one district, for example, has put forward a plan to cut 1000 positions -- only three of them administrators). No one wants to talk about combining school districts to promote efficiency -- do we really need superintendents making $200K presiding over districts with four schools and a district office staff of 30? And I don't hear anyone talking about cutting or gutting Texas' sacred cow -- high school football -- in order to bolster what goes on in the classrooms in any district. Instead I'm hearing about more kids in classrooms and fewer classroom supplies (and less copy paper) on every campus around the state.
So while I lobby state officials quietly, I also wait. I wonder which of my colleagues will not be back at my school next year. I wonder what courses I will teach next year after the cuts go into effect. I wonder how I'm supposed to prepare students for the new state End of Course tests with materials that are a decade old and written to the previous set of state standards. And as I look down the road, I wonder if there is any prospect for things to be better in two years when the next budget is adopted.