Day: <span>October 3, 2012</span>

Don’t let state “leaders” make school cuts permanent

A state representative from San Antonio has issued a warning that educators, parents and others who value the public schools better heed. The so-called state “leaders” intent on leading Texas over the cliff aren’t through yet. And, they are being egged on by a state comptroller whose error-prone revenue forecasts haven’t dissuaded her from traveling about the state, testing the water for – oh, joy – higher office.

As most of you know, Gov. Perry and the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets during the 2011 session. They used a lagging economy as an excuse even though they left several billion dollars unspent in the state’s emergency Rainy Day Fund.

Now, Comptroller Susan Combs is saying she – oops — miscalculated the improving economy when she delivered last year’s revenue estimate to the Legislature. The Rainy Day Fund is growing even larger and should total at least $8.1 billion by the time this budget period ends, while other tax collections are running at least $5 billion ahead of her projections.

So, maybe, you would be expecting the governor, the comptroller and the legislative leadership to call a news conference at the Capitol and announce the good news that they are ready to use that new-found money to do the right thing and restore funding for education and other critical services. Then school districts could start rehiring laid-off teachers and reducing overcrowded class sizes. But you would be wrong. This crowd just doesn’t want to do the right thing.

Instead, they claim they need to continue clamping down on spending because they have a big hole to patch in the Medicaid budget, they need to pay for some accounting tricks and the economy could take a dive again. And, they say we need to save the Rainy Day Fund for another hurricane or, perhaps, a return of the Cold War, even though the Legislature and Texas voters approved the fund in the 1980s for exactly the type of financial emergency that public schools are facing now.

The truth of the matter is the economy and tax collections have improved to the point that there will be enough money during next year’s legislative session to restore funding to schools, close the Medicaid hole and take care of other critical services. So, why are state “leaders” dragging their feet and calling for more belt-tightening?

“These guys want to make this (cuts) permanent,” State Rep. Michael Villarreal, a Democrat from San Antonio who voted against the cuts, warned at a news conference yesterday. And, unfortunately, he is correct.

Villarreal was joined by educator groups, including TSTA, and others concerned about the concerted effort to dismantle the public school system in favor of privatization. Some of the same people who want to keep slashing away at the public schools will try, nevertheless, to siphon tax dollars for private school vouchers. Despite what they will claim, the purpose of that effort will not be to improve education or improve opportunities for students, but to enrich private school owners.

Please vote on Election Day. Early voting will start Oct. 22. But, first, do some homework and watch out who you vote for. Every legislative candidate will claim to be a “friend of education.” But many of those voted for the cuts last year, and will vote to cut education spending again – until enough of them are replaced by the voters.