The fight for a balanced approach to balancing the state budget got a big boost today as 4,000 Texas AFT members, parents, and community and labor allies showed up in Austin to lobby the legislature. A focal point of the day was a noontime rally on the capitol steps, featuring a strong cast of speakers who met with roars of approval from an energized crowd of educators and education supporters.
More than a dozen lawmakers appeared in solidarity, not to speak but to hear from the throng gathered in front of the capitol. The message couldn’t have been clearer: Save our schools from the onslaught of mindless budget cuts and the proposed demolition of hard-won state guarantees of quality for students and fair treatment of school employees.
Charles Johnson, a minister from Dallas who co-chairs the state Coalition for Public Schools, gave a spirited defense of public education and the educators who should be earning accolades from the legislature instead of layoff notices. Houston ISD board member Juliet Stipeche stressed the legislature’s responsibility to provide the resources our schools and students need. Parent, teacher, and community organizer Allen Weeks reprised the themes of another successful pro-public-school rally he spearheaded at the capitol two days ago—save our schools, fix the funding, use the Rainy Day Fund!
Anne Dunkelberg, a health-care expert and advocate, made it plain that health-care funding and school funding both need to be rescued from the chopping block for the sake of Texas children and their families. Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller pointed out that the destruction of public-sector jobs has a negative impact on the private sector, too, citing economists’ estimate that each public job lost means 1.5 more jobs will be lost in the private sector. We’re all in this together, she said, and the crowd agreed, shouting back, “We are one!”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten brought to bear a national perspective on the attack against public services and public employees occurring in state after state this year. Together with Texas AFT President Linda Bridges, Secretary-Treasurer Louis Malfaro, and the leaders of half a dozen Texas AFT locals, Weingarten wove together all the strands of the rally, calling for determined resistance to the current attack on the middle class and determined insistence on improving our schools for the benefit of school kids.
The rally was just a part of the day’s busy agenda for Texas AFT members and allies, who fanned out across the maze of capitol offices for lobby visits with most of the 150 state representatives and 31 senators. By day’s end, reports were streaming in to Texas AFT headquarters on the results of those visits, indicating where lawmakers stand on using the Rainy Day Fund, closing tax loopholes, tapping new revenue sources, capturing every available federal dollar, and preserving state standards of educational quality and employee safeguards. The information collected will help guide ongoing advocacy efforts of Texas AFT’s legislative team at the capitol and grass-roots activists in hundreds of school districts, community colleges, and other work sites statewide. Today’s mobilization was only the beginning.