Saturday, September 22, 2012

Legislative Hotline Regarding Education

TEXAS AFT LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE—THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2012

A Deeply Disappointing Budget Proposal from the Texas Education Agency
The Texas Education Agency this afternoon presented a deeply disappointing budget request to the budget drafters at the Legislative Budget Board and Governor’s Budget Office. The proposal makes no attempt to undo the severe budget cuts enacted last session. Reading between the lines of testimony delivered by several high-level TEA officials, it appears that new Commissioner of Education Michael Williams put his imprint on this feeble plan by making it even weaker. Reportedly he cut from the proposal a number of requests that might have begun to reverse last year’s cuts. Evidently one of these requests deleted from the TEA wish list would have restored some funding for full-day pre-kindergarten grants, for example.

In the coming legislative session, Texas AFT will fight to fix this utterly inadequate budget plan for public education. Meanwhile, Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi offered a blunt assessment of the plan in testimony today:

“Texas AFT is committed to reversing the de-facto policy of disinvestment in public education that subtracted more than $5 billion from funding for our schools in the current budget. Texas AFT’s 65,000-plus members have seen the damaging effects of these budget cuts in their schools and classrooms, as documented in four surveys of educators and superintendents that Texas AFT has conducted since the current budget took effect.  (All of the surveys are available on the Texas AFT Web site,www.texasaft.org.) Our members urge the legislature and governor to change course in the 2014-2015 budget, take advantage of the new influx of state revenue greatly exceeding previous estimates, and invest in the public schools that are the key to a prosperous future for our state and its citizens.    

“The Legislative Appropriations Request submitted earlier this month by the Texas Education Agency for 2014-2015 does not even begin to restore the programs and per-pupil funding that were cut last session. Instead, this request would continue the policy of failure by design that was built into the 2012-2013 budget at the very moment our schools face rising challenges. These challenges include rapid growth in the number of high-need students in our schools. Enrollment trends reported by TEA over the most recent ten-year period show that all of the rapid increase in student population has been accounted for by economically disadvantaged students. Over the ten-year period from school year 2000-01 to school year 2010-11, enrollment of economically disadvantaged students rose by 911,795 to a total of 2,914,916, or 59 percent of all students.

“Prominent among the damaging cuts enacted last session were:  a cut in funding for school districts averaging hundreds of dollars per pupil annually; elimination of state grants supporting full-day pre-kindergarten programs for tens of thousands of children; and near-elimination of the funding needed to provide extra help under the Student Success Initiative to enable pupils who are academically at risk to pass state exams. It appears that none of these cuts that undermine school and student success would be even partially reversed under TEA’s request for the coming biennium.

“It is a sad commentary that one of the few ‘exceptional items’ requested by TEA, for which full funding would be maintained in this budget proposal, is $22.1 million ‘to fully fund the implementation of the state’s assessment system.’ This ‘exceptional item’ request illustrates vividly the misplaced priorities of the proposed state education budget. While vital programs like expanded pre-kindergarten go begging, full funding for the state’s fixation on standardized testing is kept intact. The state under this budget plan would maintain these misplaced priorities—focused on measuring achievement levels with standardized testing rather than taking the measures needed to raise achievement —even as the very design of the state test has been called into question by expert testimony taken in the House Public Education Committee during the current interim, and even as school-finance lawsuits have challenged the state’s failure to make adequate provision for the public school system, as required by the state constitution.

“Dramatically improved revenue collections reported by the state comptroller’s office and independent fiscal experts give TEA and the legislature new reason to reconsider this education budget. The state’s tax collections have far exceeded the official estimates on which the current draconian budget was based. Both a burgeoning cash balance of billions of dollars and the fast-growing Economic Stabilization Fund (the so-called Rainy Day Fund) provide the means to restore key education programs and per-pupil funding. It is time for the agency and the LBB to make contingency plans to restore the funding that was cut last session. There is a way, if the legislature has the will.” 



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