Strong Testimony Answers Attacks on School Funding, Teacher Pay, Contract Safeguards

Texas AFT testified against matching school-finance bills in the Texas House and Senate Thursday. The plans fall short on both adequacy and equity, and they would permanently enforce $4 billion in unprecedented cuts in public education. These bills, HB 1 and SB 1, would leave school districts uncertain whether they could count on state funding formulas; those formulas simply would be revised to fit the funding available instead of establishing a strong claim on state resources.

Texas AFT’s testimony was backed up by a strong cadre of coalition allies and individuals from across the state. Zeph Capo, legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, testified movingly of the damage already done by local spending cuts in Houston ISD in anticipation of the loss of state aid. Dennis Anderson, a United Auto Workers representative from Plano, urged the Senate Finance Committee to return to an earlier Senate plan calling for use of the Rainy Day Fund. He and others echoed the point made by Louis Malfaro, Texas AFT’s secretary-treasurer, by Texas AFL-CIO spokesman Rick Levy and by numerous other witnesses, who urged use of the Rainy Day Fund to prevent the planned cutbacks in school funding.

Sen. Steve Ogden, Republican of Bryan, tried to deflect responsibility for the impending cuts to local school boards, but witnesses rightly gave that contention little credence. As Sue Deigaard, Houston parent activist, bluntly told the senators:  “You have a choice.”

Meanwhile, in the Senate Education Committee, testimony was taken on SB 8, the bill by Sen. Florence Shapiro, Republican of Plano, who wants to give school districts the power to impose unpaid furloughs for up to six days a year, along with essentially unlimited ability to cut teacher pay more directly. Also in her bill are multiple measures to downgrade teachers’ contract protection. Texas AFT fielded several witnesses against the bill, including general counsel Martha Owen. From our Education Austin local, Montserrat Garibay brought a reality check to the proceedings, pointing out that fallout from looming state budget cuts had already wiped out more than 1,000 jobs in Austin ISD. Texas AFT’s summation of the problems with SB 8 reads as follows:

“Instead of offering a narrowly tailored, temporary provision for limited salary reductions or furloughs, with a fixed expiration date, this bill makes furloughs and salary reductions a method of permanently avoiding the need to restore funding. SB 8 “solves” the structural deficit—the state’s failure to deliver promised levels of funding to school districts—by letting districts cut teacher pay for the indefinite future.”