Monthly Archives: March 2012

Tens of thousands in overcrowded classrooms

It already has been reported that more than 8,400 elementary classes in Texas have been affected by the record number of financial hardship waivers to the 221 studentteacher cap for K4. But how many children are in those overcrowded classrooms? The short answer is…a lot.

Crunching some numbers, TSTA’s teaching and learning specialist, Bryan Weatherford, has determined that as many as 88,639 K4 students in the state’s 10 largest school districts alone are in classes with more students than the limit set by state law. The number is about 22 percent of the total K4 enrollment in those 10 districts, and it is based on the number of elementary campuses and grades covered by waivers in each district.

Leading the overcrowded pack is Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, with as many as 47,413 elementary students (57 percent of the district’s total K4 enrollment) impacted. In second place is San Antonio’s Northside ISD, a rapidly growing district, with as many as 18,595 elementary students in overcrowded classes. That is about half (49.7 percent) of the district’s total K4 enrollment.

Here are the other potential waiver impacts among the 10 biggest districts:

Dallas ISD – 5,517 K4 students (8.3 percent of total)

CypressFairbanks ISD – 11,346 (28.2 percent)

Austin ISD – 1,294 (3.5 percent)

North East ISD (San Antonio) – 4,034 (16.09 percent)

El Paso ISD – 440 (1.9 percent)

Only three of the largest districts – Fort Worth, Arlington and Fort Bend – had no waivers reported – at least so far. But can they hold out when the second round of budget cuts kicks in next year? And, how much higher will the waiver numbers grow in other districts?

There still is time to put a lid on these waivers and stop the budget bleeding in the public schools. That is why TSTA is demanding that Governor Perry call the Legislature into special session to appropriate $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to stop the cuts now. The money is there, and it won’t require a tax increase.

The governor and the legislative majority pretended last year that the $5.4 billion in public education cuts wouldn’t hurt the classroom, even as they left more than $7 billion of taxpayers’ money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund. Their argument didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make sense now. The budget cuts are swelling classrooms and eroding the learning environment for many thousands of Texas children. If you haven’t signed TSTA’s petition, please click on this link and send it around:


Ignoring the real profamily message

While in Texas last week, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother of former President George W. Bush, was bemoaning the inability of Republicans to connect with the vast majority of Hispanic voters. He believes the GOP has a conservative, profamily message that could appeal to Hispanics. But it isn’t the message being delivered by Governor Rick Perry and the immigrantbashing, antipublic education, Republican legislative majority.

A solid public education is a strong profamily value, particularly for millions of Hispanic children who, for better or worse, will form Texas’ economic backbone in the nottoodistant future. Slashing $5.4 billion from the public schools and cramming thousands of Hispanic children into overcrowded classrooms is a loud, antifamily message in the Hispanic community. So are cuts in student financial aid for college and rising tuition costs.

“You need to speak a language of inclusion,” Bush said in an appearance at the University of Texas at Arlington.

But the Republicans running the Texas statehouse believe “inclusion” begins and ends with the rightwingers who dominate Republican primary elections, and those voters give little thought to Hispanic family values or the future of this state.

Jeb Bush can make all the speeches about Hispanic voters that he wants, but the people who need the message aren’t listening.

-From The Dallas Morning News

Yes, it can get worse

The antigovernment activists who couldn’t care less about the future of Texas’ public schools smell blood in the water. Fresh off their success in winning deep budget cuts in the class room, health care and other public services from the governor and the legislative majority last year, they have their sights set on even deeper cuts in 2013. They outlined some of them in a news conference at the state Capitol this week. (See the link below.)

The only thing standing between them and more damage to a host of public services that the vast majority of Texans consider essential is the upcoming round of legislative elections, starting with the party primaries on May 29. If the 2010 legislative elections are any indication – and they will be these rightwing ideologues will be out in force, intimidating candidates, playing on prejudices and misleading uninformed voters with inflated tales of government waste.

Their goal is to all but dismantle state government as we know it. The end result for education would be more profit for private school operators and charters and a weakened system of public schools for the vast majority of Texas children. Teachers in traditional public schools would continue to lose jobs and suffer pay cuts, and class sizes would continue to grow.

Teachers, most of whom don’t qualify for Social Security, also would be forced to give up their stable, defined benefit pensions for riskier 401(k)s. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is one of the soundest public pension systems in the country, and school employee members contribute a big chunk of the premiums, but it is in the crosshairs of those who belittle public service.

Talmadge Heflin, a former legislator and now guru of the shrinkgovernment Texas Public Policy Foundation, is among those promoting the change from defined benefit pensions. Interestingly enough, Heflin, who had a 22year career in the Texas House, enjoys a very nice defined benefit pension from the state, something that pays much more than the $600 a month he got as a legislator.

“Raising taxes and seeking new revenue sources is off the table for Texas taxpayers and voters,” said antigovernment rabblerouser Michael Quinn Sullivan. He speaks for a vocal group of Texas taxpayers and voters. The group is smaller than Sullivan would have you believe, but its members will turn out and vote in legislative races.
Although loud and active, the antigovernment crowd is swamped in numbers by teachers and other public education employees alone. Add to them the additional Texans who depend upon or value public health care programs and other services that were harmed by last year’s budget cuts, and you have the potential to change the electoral math in many legislative districts.

But numbers have to be accompanied by action. People have to get motivated to educate themselves about their legislators and legislative candidates, learn how to differentiate between the real supporters of public education and the lipservice imposters – and they have to vote.

Because of lawsuits over redistricting, the primaries have been delayed until May 29, one day after Memorial Day. Early voting will start May 14. This is a poor time to have an election, when many people will be busy with the end of school and beginning of summer vacation. But the antipublic education, antipublic services crowd will turn out to vote. So must educators and everyone else who values the public schools and the other critical services that state government provides.

With “friends” like these, lose a job or get a pay cut

Texas teachers who haven’t lost their jobs, at least so far, in the wake of last year’s legislative carnage may have noticed their paychecks are a little lighter this year. That’s because the average teacher salary in Texas fell by $264 for the current, 201112 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency. This is the first cut in average teacher pay in Texas in a dozen years or more. The new average salary is $48,375, down from $48,639 in 201011, which was almost $7,000 less than the national average.

The next time a candidate for the Texas Legislature tells you he or she is a friend of education – and a lot of them will be doing that once our delayed primary season gets underway – don’t be too quick to believe it. A whole lot of legislators and legislative candidates ran as “friends of education” two years ago, and many of them got elected and then proceeded to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets. With “friends” like these, Texas’ public schools are heading for disaster.

The pay cut is only the latest fruit of their “educationfriendly” legislating. Just before spring break, in case you didn’t notice, the Texas Education Agency calculated the total school job losses since this time last year at about 25,000, including almost 11,000 teachers. You can find out how each school district fared by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.

The job losses mean that more than 8,400 elementary classrooms (kindergarten through fourth grade) are larger than the 22student cap set by state law. That is almost four times as many classrooms as were granted waivers from 221 last year.

Several school board or former school board members are running for the Texas House this year, quickening heartbeats and prompting speculation that maybe some new, legitimate friends of the public schools will be seated in the statehouse. Maybe, maybe not. Several votes for the $5.4 billion gash in school funding were cast by former school board members.

Vet your legislative candidates carefully, including those who come as “friends.” TSTA will be.

For starters, invite them to sign TSTA’s petition urging the governor to call a special session to appropriate $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to reverse the budget cuts for 201213. A petition signature, at least for starters, would be a very friendly gesture.

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