Follow-up Texas AFT surveys show more classroom damage on the way due to state budget cuts

The results are in. Many thanks go to the thousands who participated in our recent survey on the impact of state budget cuts, both for this school year and for what is anticipated for next year. (And thanks also go to the hundreds of superintendents who also weighed in on a similar survey.) Texas AFT highlighted the results today in a media release:

Two new Texas AFT surveys reveal the continuing damage—larger class sizes, loss of key services for struggling students and increased discipline problems—done by $5.4 billion in state cuts to public education while also highlighting the intent of school employees to be more politically active in support of candidates who pledge to reverse the cuts.

The new surveys focused especially on impacts expected in the 2012-2013 school year, which is year two of the cuts enacted in 2011. Responses to the surveys from school employees and superintendents alike indicate that conditions for learning and teaching in Texas classrooms continue to deteriorate as a result of the 2011 budget cuts, employee morale continues to decline accordingly, and students face ever-increasing class sizes as further layoffs loom.

“The bottom line of both surveys is that the budget cuts of 2011 are doing lasting damage in our classrooms,” said Texas AFT President Linda Bridges..

School Employee, Parent and Concerned Citizens Survey

In a April/May survey of 4,000 school employees, parents and concerned Texans—a follow-up to a survey conducted last fall—94 percent of respondents reported that they were “much more likely” or “more likely” to “be politically active in supporting candidates who pledge to restore public education funding.”

“What we’re seeing in our survey responses and in hundreds of comments is that teachers are becoming much more focused on researching the platforms of candidates and electing or re-electing legislators who will restore education funding,” Bridges said. “Many specifically indicated that they won’t automatically vote a straight ticket on the ballot anymore.  And while our question specifically asked about reversing cuts, a large number of respondents volunteered that they also would be looking for candidates who will work to end the overemphasis on standardized testing.”

Some 88 percent of respondents said their district laid off employees this year, with 32 percent noting cuts of 100 or more positions.  (85 percent said the cuts included teachers.)  Although many respondents were unsure about the number of layoffs for next year (48 percent), a large number (87 percent) said that teacher positions were at risk for elimination.

Class sizes continued to be a key concern for employees, with 86 percent of respondents saying their class sizes increased this year, and 58 percent saying they expected their class sizes would increase even more next year. (39 percent were unsure.)

“Rising class sizes also were the primary reason given for discipline problems in our schools, with some 1,500 school employees offering comments related to how crowded classrooms make it much more difficult to manage schoolchildren effectively and ensure that disruptive students don’t hamper instruction,” Bridges said.

Bridges said that teacher morale continues to be low, with 81 percent of respondents describing their school climate as “worse” or “much worse” than the previous year. Further describing their working environment, 71 percent said it was “stressful or taxing,” and 13 percent described it as “hostile and unfriendly.”

“Teacher morale is getting worse, and larger class sizes, increased workload and the time spent on standardized testing show up in comments as the key causes,” Bridges said. “The other common concern among teachers is an increasing disrespect in the workplace and a fear that they will be targeted for retribution or loss of a job if they speak up about the challenges they are facing in their classrooms. Last week may have been Teacher Appreciation Week, but many Texas teachers clearly were not feeling much appreciated.”

Superintendent Survey

Another Texas AFT survey of 273 public school superintendents—also a follow-up to a survey last fall—continues to show that the districts are struggling to meet budget gaps, with some 63 percent saying they will resort to using more one-time money from their reserve funds to make ends meet for next school year’s budget.  (16 percent were unsure.)

Compared to the 2010-2011 school year (before state budget cuts were enacted), superintendents reported that they expect an average cut of 7 percent in state and local funding per weighted average daily attendance next year. The ongoing cuts in per-pupil funding will occur as the state continues to gain more than 80,000 new students per year.

“Superintendents are confirming that state cuts are having a direct impact on classrooms,” Bridges said.

Some 73 percent of superintendents said they expect their district to increase class sizes next year in response to state budget cuts.  “We expected further increases in class sizes next year, but to hear that more than two- thirds of districts are preparing to take that step is devastating, particularly when we see the harmful effects of larger class sizes reported by teachers,” Bridges said.

You can view the full release, along with key findings from the surveys on our Web site, or by downloading the PDF version here.