With temperatures in Central Texas nearing 100 degrees, it is almost time for a new school year. I know that may not make a lot of sense, but it is the way it is. I hope all the air conditioners are working when teachers, staff and students report back to campus, although that may be a dicey proposition in some school districts, given the state of education funding in Texas.
Another sign of the approaching school year was the long line outside Allan Elementary School in East Austin yesterday. According to the Austin American-Statesman, parents from low-income families started arriving as early as 3:30 a.m. to get free backpacks, each filled with $40 worth of school supplies and clothing for their children. Many parents waited three hours in the dark because they didn’t want to be late for their jobs. Yes, most poor people work.
The line also started forming so early because the need is great. Some 60 percent of students in Austin ISD are from low-income families, a percentage that is about typical of the state as a whole. This event was sponsored by the Manos de Cristo charity, which because of resources had to limit its giveaway to 2,000 children, but it likely will be repeated by other charities throughout the state.
And the average Texas teacher – who is paid less than teachers in most other states — will dig about $700 out of his or her own pocket to help pay for classroom supplies before the new school year is out, according to TSTA’s most recent survey.
So, a lot of people are preparing for the new school year – teachers, administrators, parents, students, charities. And many are doing so at financial sacrifice.
And, what is the state leadership doing? Besides congratulating itself for being “pro-education”?
It is continuing, of course, to under-fund the public schools while it fights a state district court ruling that the schools are so poorly funded that the funding system is unconstitutional. House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen tried to convince his colleagues to start getting serious about school funding during last spring’s session, but the legislative majority insisted instead on spending billions of dollars on tax reductions and leaving billions of additional dollars in the bank.
Now, state leaders are hoping the Texas Supreme Court will reverse or weaken the lower court decision. Meanwhile, as The Dallas Morning News reported this week, many school districts are receiving less in funding per student than they did in the 2010-11 school year.
If only the state of Texas had the same sense of urgency for education as teachers, parents and charities do.