Seldom at a loss for empty rhetoric, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman the other day as saying he will “continue to focus on making Texas schools the envy of our nation.” He should try telling that to some Austin ISD teachers who are working every day to make Patrick’s alleged goal happen – with precious little help from Patrick.
In addition to their normal duties, teachers at Palm Elementary School in Austin ISD are working with school administrators to restore their school, which was heavily flooded during storms several weeks ago. According to the Austin Chronicle, floodwaters from Onion Creek made a mess of the facility, forcing the temporary relocation of students and leaving the district with costly cleanup bills.
The teachers, meanwhile, are digging into their own pockets to help restock their classrooms with school supplies, only a few months after buying supplies – without reimbursement – for the start of the school year. Those supplies were ruined or washed away.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual in Texas for public school teachers to pay several hundred dollars a year for classroom supplies that districts can’t afford. Palm teachers are getting hit twice, and Education Austin President Ken Zarifis made it clear that state government (including Dan Patrick) is to blame because the legislative majority continues to under-fund public education.
Lawmakers, he pointed out, have created “an unstated expectation that teachers should pay for their basic supplies.”
“We have a finance system that has been starved by our state for years and has increasingly made demands upon the teachers,” he added. “There are enough challenges and frustration dealing with a flood, never mind resupplying your classroom.”
Zarifis is a former middle school teacher who recalls buying things like highlighters, markers, extra paper and other things the district didn’t provide and many students can’t afford.
Teachers were paying an average $697 a year from their own paychecks for classroom supplies in 2013, the last time TSTA surveyed its members on the question. And, that was a signficant increase from the previous survey – an average $564 a year in 2010.
This, of course, is only one result of an under-funded school finance system that Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and the legislative majority continue to ignore while they fight a court order for improvements.
The several billion taxpayer dollars that Patrick insisted upon leaving in the bank last spring could have bought a lot of school supplies and classroom computers, raised teacher salaries, lowered health insurance costs and reduced class sizes for thousands of school children.
Patrick’s rhetoric is a lot cheaper, and it is an insult to educators and a disservice to school children.