Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some Miracle

Back when Texas Gov. Rick Perry was running for president — remember that? — he bragged about how his state had avoided the financial meltdown and recession. He called it “The Texas Miracle.” But most of the miracle was budget bookkeeping sleight-of-hand and cutting funding for healthcare and education. According to the New York Times, the cuts to education amounted to $5.4 billion dollars.

The budget reductions that districts large and small have had to make have transformed school life in a host of ways — increasing class sizes, reducing services and supplies and thinning the ranks of teachers, custodians, librarians and others, school administrators said.

Like chief executives of struggling corporations, superintendents have been cutting back on everything from paper to nurses and have had to become increasingly creative about generating revenue. They are selling advertising space on the sides of buses and on district Web sites, scaling back summer school, charging parents if their children take part in athletics or cheerleading and adding periods in the school day so fewer teachers can accommodate more students.

In suburban Fort Worth, the Keller Independent School District started charging parents for bus service. The fee, which ranges this year from $185 to $355 for one student, is expected to bring in about $1 million, no small amount for a district that eliminated 100 positions and some sports teams and no longer has uniformed officers providing security after it canceled contracts with local police agencies.

One Central Texas district, Dripping Springs, reduced its custodial staff and has relied on teachers to pick up the slack. Janitors now visit the classrooms every other day, leaving teachers to clean and sweep their rooms on the off days. Off day or on, teachers also must collect their trash and set it in the hallway, part of custodial changes aimed at saving the district $149,000.

To cut $1.5 million, the Northwest district in the Fort Worth area also stopped busing students who live within a two-mile walk of their school. “It’s buses or teachers, and we’re choosing teachers,” said the superintendent, Karen G. Rue. “That’s what it came down to, plain and simple.”

For a political party that claims to be for family values and everything from healthcare to what’s on TV is framed in the question of “But what about the children?” they certainly don’t seem to care at all about the basic foundation of our society: education and the preparation for an independent life. In fact, the Texas legislature would rather give a tax break to an oil company than money to a school district, and if the schools don’t like that, well, tough.

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. “How that money’s spent is the bigger issue,” he told the newspaper.

The voters in Iowa and New Hampshire did the nation a huge favor when they ignored Gov. Perry and his attempt to become the GOP candidate. Unfortunately, the students in Texas don’t have that option. The next Texas miracle will be if public education can survive the last one.

HT to Steven D.