At a recent press conference, Governor Rick Perry boasted that Texas "has done a very good job of funding public education [in the last decade]," while conveniently glossing over the 5.4 billion dollar cut to schools from 2011. When discussing the priorities of the Texas Legislature, he left education off of his list. With Texas already tangled in a trial versus two-thirds of its school districts over the budget cut, it's hard to imagine that education is not a priority in Governor Perry's mind. Not to mention the fact that the state's funding system has been challenged six times since 1984, and as recently as 2005. As the trial continues, it is time for Texas to recognize that funding is about more than money. This trial is about making education a priority.
Texas school districts allege that the 5.4 billion dollar cuts prohibited them from providing an adequate education to children by forcing teacher layoffs, increasing class sizes, and ending pre-k programs. While Texas has advanced its education system in the areas of testing and accountability, its school finance, teaching profession, and K-12 achievement remain mediocre at best. When teachers are laid off, those who are lucky enough to keep their jobs are forced to confront increased class sizes and additional responsibilities. Without pre-K programs, heralded by Arne Duncan as the best way to improve our current system, children enter kindergarten and elementary schools unprepared. This, again, creates more strain for teachers who must find ways to compensate for the knowledge gaps their children bring to the classroom. Texas diminishes its educators when it cuts funds and places the education of our children in jeopardy.
Even more disturbing is the reality that Texas' booming population will continue to flood schools in the coming years. Enrollment in public schools is increasing at a rate of about 80,000 students per year. Moreover, most of those students come from low-income backgrounds or are English Language Learners. These are students that require more resources to educate effectively, and they are typically students who attend already underserved schools. Yet the Texas Legislature appeared unconcerned about this staggering number of children when it approved the budget cut and refused to pull from the state's Rainy Day Fund. In particular, the legislature failed to allocate 2.2 billion dollars needed for 156,000 new students over the next two years.
Experts in the trial have argued on behalf of the state that efficiency, not money, must be the answer to fixing public schools. However, policy makers have yet to offer schools concrete solutions of how to run more efficiently on lower funds. Without new solutions, the budget cuts have debilitated our schools and left them unprepared for an influx of new students. In the meantime, our students' educations have become collateral damage in a budget war. It is time that Texas recognizes the need to reform our education system. The decision over the budget is about more than money. The price our children have paid far outweighs any material cost. When the time comes the Texas Supreme Court should rule in favor of our school districts, and show the nation that here, education is a priority.