The Truth about State Education Cuts—Former Lt. Gov. Ratliff Speaks Out

Bill Ratliff is not only a former Republican lieutenant governor of Texas but also a former chair of the Senate Education Committee and Senate Finance Committee in the Texas legislature. He knows a thing or two about the state education budget. And he’s not buying the line being peddled by the current state Republican leadership that they didn’t cut but actually increased state aid to schools last year.

In fact, by Ratliff’s calculations, the reality is even worse than most school advocates have been saying. In a March 30 report entitled “Ratliff, Free to Speak His Mind, Tackles the Budget,” Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune lays out Ratliff’s analysis of the state budget as follows:

–“the state has dug a hole that will make its next budget even worse than the terrible budget that’s now in effect”;

–“lawmakers have spent billions more than state revenue can cover and have obligated themselves to use future state income to cover current expenses”; and

–“accumulated public education cuts total more than $13 billion over the last four years.”

Concerning the “terrible” current two-year budget and the one that preceded it, Ratliff provides enlightening estimates of where school funding should be versus where it actually is.  Ratliff looks at the amount the state was spending on public education in the 2008 fiscal year, $24.3 billion, and projects what the comparable number should be now if you adjust that 2008 figure to cover the cost of enrollment growth since then totaling 320,000 students:  $27.3 billion.  As Ramsey further reports, if you also include a 2-percent inflation rate, the current figure would be $29.4 billion. Yet the actual current amount, says Ratliff, is just $21.9 billion—fully $7.5 billion less than it would be if spending had merely kept pace with enrollment growth and inflation.

Ratliff also has choice comments about the relationship between the budget cuts and class size. It is well-known that waivers of the state class-size cap of 22-to-1 in grades K-4 have tripled since last year, based primarily on claims of financial hardship. Yet, Ratliff says, private schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have an average class size of 16 students. “If we ran public schools like a business, our classes would have 16 students in them,” says the former lieutenant governor.

In light of the cumulative impact of all the recent education cuts, Ratliff dismisses claims from on high that the state has made public education the highest priority. “As far as I’m concerned, the highest priority took the biggest hit,” he told the Texas Tribune.

The Tribune story concludes on a discordant note, with the observation that Ratliff doesn’t have to answer to the voters, unlike politicians currently in office.  But Ratliff’s assessment is right in line with what the polls tell us Texas voters think.  Last July, for example, 85 percent of Texans told the independent Texas Poll that the legislature failed to make education a priority in the state’s 2012-2013 budget, and 90 percent said the state should increase funding for public education.