A new school year is set to start next week, and the Texas system of financing public education is in trouble. Outdated, inadequate, and inequitable state funding formulas have put an increasing burden on Texas school districts to take up the slack. Some 60 percent of districts reportedly are dipping into reserves for the 2010-2011 school year. The state already this year has cut funding for after-school programs helping at-risk students and for high-school science labs that all students require but that low-wealth districts cannot afford on their own. Anticipating a large revenue shortfall when the legislature meets next January to write a new two-year budget, the governor and legislative leaders have directed the Texas Education Agency and other agencies to develop plans for further cutbacks.
Only an influx of billions of dollars in federal aid under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year, to counter the devastating impact of the Great Recession on state and local revenue, has prevented thus far even more extreme cuts in essential school personnel and programs. The effects of the economic downturn are still taking a toll on state and local revenue, so Congress earlier this month extended to the states a new lifeline of additional funding. The Texas share of this funding is $830 million, which could be used to rehire laid-off teachers and other school personnel, avert future layoffs, and reverse or avoid destructive policy changes–for example, by rolling back increases in class size.
The money is there for the asking, and Gov. Rick Perry has until September 9 to ask for it. But his only official pronouncement so far has been to denounce the offer of federal aid, asserting that he would be required to make assurances of sustained state funding efforts that he lacks authority to guarantee. In reality, though, the required assurances boil down to no more than a good-faith statement of intent not to use the federal money as an excuse to cut state school aid. The U.S. Department of Education also has made clear its eagerness to get the money passed through to Texas school districts as soon as possible. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has vowed to “work with” Gov. Perry to achieve compliance. Casual comments from the governor and answers to reporters’ queries from TEA suggest that common sense may yet prevail over political gamesmanship, allowing the dollars to flow. Those indications have not yet produced any public action on this opportunity to ease the budget crunch, however.
Texas AFT President Linda Bridges has called on the governor to make the necessary assurances and accept the money without further delay. Please add your voice to this plea, by sending the governor an e-mail letter that you’ll find posted on the Texas AFT Web site at www.texasaft.org. The timing is critical. As many school districts put the final touches on their budget plans for 2010-2011, it’s important for the governor to step up and take the offered funding before unnecessary cuts are baked into local spending plans. So please take a moment to send your letter now!
(For extra credit, when you send your letter you also can call the governor’s toll-free number to urge him to let the Education Jobs Fund money flow to Texas school districts. That toll-free number is: 1-800-843-5789.)