While the legislative perpetrators of $5.4 billion in state budget cuts for Texas public education try to sell the myth that there were no cuts at all enacted this year, the reality of those cuts is hitting home in school districts and classrooms across Texas.
In grades K-4, state class-size limits of 22 pupils per teacher in each classroom have survived the attack mounted by those self-same legislative perpetrators, thanks to massive resistance from educators and parents. But school districts have been encouraged to seek waivers of those limits nonetheless by Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry. Districts have responded by nearly tripling their previous number of waiver requests, many citing state-imposed financial hardship as their rationale. According to TEA data cited in a report in the Austin American-Statesman, more than 6,500 classes across Texas are expected to exceed the limit this year—compared to 2,238 K-4 classes affected by waivers last school year. The same American-Statesman story reported a TEA spokesperson’s acknowledgment that the agency is not even checking to see if schools seeking waivers are rated academically low-performing under the state’s accountability system.
The effects of ballooning class sizes are being felt even more pervasively at grade levels other than K-4, where waivers aren’t necessary because no class-size limits apply. The Houston Chronicle and other newspapers statewide are reporting jumps in class size in middle schools to 35 pupils or more per teacher. Some secondary-level classes have 40 or more students. Workloads are comparably inflated for other school professionals and support staff. Counselors and school nurses in some districts are seeing hundreds of students added to their already-heavy load.
School districts were told by some legislators last spring that their boards of trustees could go to local voters for a property-tax increase if they didn’t like the effects of state budget cuts. Many are indeed likely to hold tax-rate increase elections (so-called tax-ratification elections, or TREs) in the near future. According to Joe Smith, publisher of the informative www.texasisd.com Web information service, 13 districts are holding TREs on November 8. Some 685 districts can only gain access to additional local tax revenue and thereby make up for lost state aid by holding such voter referendums. Only 102 districts have tax rates below $1.04 and therefore still have access to some increased local revenue without having to go for voter approval. Another 237 districts already have hit the state-mandated maximum rate of $1.17 per $100 valuation, so they’re out of luck. Hence it should come as no surprise that hundreds of districts are joining in multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school-finance system.
Please help Texas AFT gauge and chronicle the impact of the $5.4 billion in state education cuts by taking a short online survey. Texas AFT wants to document how these cuts already are affecting the schoolchildren, parents, teachers, other school employees, and neighborhood schools in your community. We intend to share this information far and wide with lawmakers, the media, and everyone concerned about the future of our students and schools.