Remember when Gov. Rick Perry said last year that he wasn’t going to fire any school teachers? He was just going to slash the smithereens out of school district budgets – which he and his legislative allies did – and if local school administrators couldn’t make do, well, that wouldn’t be his fault.
Everybody but blind partisans knows that the subsequent loss of 25,000 school jobs was largely Perry’s fault, of course. But now the state attorney general’s office has adopted the governor’s hand-washing, pass-the-buck attitude in its defense of the school finance lawsuits brought against the state by several hundred school districts.
“They (districts) make big, big budget decisions within their discretion,” Assistant Attorney General Shelley Dahlberg told state District Judge John Dietz, who is presiding over the trial.
Then, according to the Austin American-Statesman, she questioned whether it was “efficient” for school districts to spend money on “extras,” such as iPads, teacher aides and sports.
Teacher aides are not luxuries, folks, although there aren’t as many of them now as there were before the budget-cutting began. Teacher aides are particularly important in helping teachers educate an increasing number of low-income students, special education children and children with limited English-speaking skills. They also help spread the teaching load – at least for those teachers fortunate to have them – in the crowded classrooms that have become more commonplace.
I don’t know for sure but am willing to bet that most students in Texas’ public schools don’t have iPads. Many don’t even have basic classroom supplies, unless their teachers have dug into their own pockets to pay for them. But for those districts that have been able to purchase iPads, great. It is a modern learning tool that is far superior to the quill pen and parchment, which perhaps the attorney general is suggesting as alternatives. State government may want to operate in the 18th Century, but our public schools shouldn’t have to.
Sports? They definitely have their place in children’s development. Besides, does Dahlberg’s boss, Attorney General Greg Abbott, want to be the first statewide elected official to suggest that high school football be struck as a legitimate school expense? I think Abbott knows the fate that would befall him at the hands of thousands of angry, taxpaying parents, and it wouldn’t be pretty. Sure, you can argue that some school districts get carried away with extravagant football stadiums, but those are built with bonds approved by local taxpayers. They aren’t part of the school funding formulas, which the legislative majority cut by more than $500 per student last year.
Addressing the unhappiness over poor STAAR testing results, which school districts blame, at least in party, on inadequate funding, Dahlberg told the judge that it’s impossible to predict “with any certainty” how students will fare on the STAAR tests in another couple of years. There is no crisis yet, she suggested.
I disagree. I think we can predict with a large amount of certainty what will happen to STAAR test results if schools continue to be underfunded and children continue to be crammed into overcrowded classes with teachers who are stretched too thin. Test results will continue to decline, and the crisis that we are facing now will have deepened.