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Texas: Ground Zero in the Republican War on Public Education

April 11, 2012

Texas: Ground Zero in the Republican War on Public Education

Excellent article on the DailyKos about public education in Texas.  As a California teacher I have to admit that I am happy we have a Democrat as a Governor, and we have two U.S. Senators who are both Democrats.  Does that make public education safe for a California teacher?  No, sadly it doesn’t as we have seen thousands of teachers get laid off year after year…but, I submit to you, that it could be worse.

We could be a Republican dominated, right-wing legislation friendly state like Texas.  Take a look at what happens when Republicans control everything in the state house and there is no one to speak for public employees at the Federal level. Take the video link directly below for a little lampooning of the situation.

http://vimeo.com/30022614

Here is another video out of Texas you might find interesting.  This one I was able to embed.

What happens in a state controlled and dominated by Republicans?  In particular how do they deal with budget deficits?  Do they raise taxes?  Of course not.  What they do is literally starve public schools of funding.  This year the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 Billion dollars (via the New York Times) from the state’s budget for previously dedicated to public schools.  Those budget cuts went into effect this year and will continue next year.

Texas has 1,264 public school districts.  Here are some of the consequences of preserving tax cuts for corporations and the uber-rich, and passing the cost of balancing budgets onto the backs’ of Texas’ public school children and their families according to the NY Times report:

  • Eliminating bus services:  Many districts, to save money have simply stopped providing bus services to children who live within a two mile radius of their school.  For many children this means that they spend up to an hour or more walking to and from school each day.  Other school districts have started charging parents a fee (up to $355 per year for one district) for children who are bused.  Others now sell advertising space on the side of school buses.
  • Thousands of teachers, school librarians and even school nurses have been laid off.Janitorial staff has also been cut in many school districts with teachers expected to take over those duties on days janitors are unavailable.
  • Class sizes have grown to as many as 40 or more kids per class.  
  • Some districts  have simply shut down certain elementary schools entirely, with the children reassigned to the remaining schools.
  • Arts and Music programs are being eliminated.
  • Fees for participation in athletics or other after school activities are now frequently charged to parents if their children wish to participate in them.
  • Field Trips are a thing of the past.

“It’s almost like slow death,” said the [Hutto School District] superintendent, Douglas Killian, during a visit to Veterans’ Hill, where the classrooms are now used by adults as part of a higher education center run by Temple College and Texas State Technical College. “We’re being picked apart. It’s made a tremendous morale issue in the district. I’ve noticed that folks are a lot more on edge.”

So what do the Republicans politicians who authorized these drastic cuts have to say for themselves?  Not much.  No big deal, they say.  

Several lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature have played down the impact of the $5.4 billion in cuts on schools statewide. In an interview in February with The Dallas Morning News, Gov. Rick Perry said he saw no need for a special legislative session to restore some of the education funding that was eliminated last year and said the schools were receiving an adequate amount of money.

I wonder of the parents, teachers and kids who attend Texas’ public schools agree with Governor Rick Perry’s assessment of the effect of these cuts or with Superintendent Killian’s perception that the Texas Legislature is essentially starving public education, in essence killing the viability of Texas’ public schools, this destroying the very idea that Government should provide universal public education to all its citizens.  These cuts don’t just effect black kids or Hispanic kids, but all children who attend public schools.  The quality of the education that is being offered by Texas’ public schools is being degraded even as the schools are required, by law, to meet ever more stringent testing standards.

Texas public schools spend $8,908 per student, a decrease of $538 from the previous year and below the national average of $11,463, according to the National Education Association. California spent $9,710 and New York $15,592.

I feel fortunate I live in New York State.  My son and now my daughter attend great public schools, schools that are the equal of the best private schools in our region.  But, the Republican agenda, even here, is to eliminate funding for teachers and schools as much as possible.  Raising taxes on wealthy bankers and hedge fund managers or on corporations is not even a consideration that is discussed, even in this so-called bastion of ulta-liberal elites.  Now imagine what would  happen to New York Schools if Republicans had their way, as they mow do in Texas and many other states.  Would my school district offer music and art classes?  Would bus service be eliminated? How many Advanced Placement classes would be available for gifted kids?  How many special education teachers would be retained?  How many school counselors would be out of a job?

How would our children learn anything of value under such conditions?

Look at what is happening in Texas and in other states where Republican controlled state governments have cut funding for public schools and promoted the privatization of education.  That is the path Republicans want to take with respect to our children.  Their ultimate goal is to make public education a thing of the past, and allow only the 1% to send the children to good schools and good universities.  Republicans are not just waging a war on the poor, the middle class, the sick (attacking health care reform), the elderly or on women, but they are also waging a war on our children, and by extension a war on the future of our nation.

Texas is but one example, but a very revealing one.  And anyone who thinks this war won’t effect them because they are white is sadly mistaken.  Only the rich will prosper in the world Republicans are in the process of creating.  The rest of us will live blighted lives, nasty, brutish and short.

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