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Cutting the budget means cutting education

No two ways around it.

As the single biggest consumer of state money, the Texas public education system stands to lose millions of dollars as the state grapples with a looming budget shortfall.

Education Commissioner Robert Scott has suggested more than $260 million in cuts from the state’s almost $40 billion education budget for the next two years. Some of those would reach into the classroom, eliminating money for new science labs, textbooks and teacher development. Those recommendations have infuriated teachers.

Gov. Rick Perry’s “budgetary policies are wrecking the public schools and jeopardizing our children’s future,” said Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association. “The governor can talk all he wants about school savings … but most districts and educators are already stretched so thin, there is little, if anything, left to save.”

The budget proposal for the Texas Education Agency would ax millions of dollars for a teacher mentoring program and other continuing education opportunities for teachers. It also would cut $35 million that was set aside in the previous budget to help schools build new science labs to go along with a new requirement that high school students take four years of science classes.

The reality is very simple. Texas has a young and growing population. A large and increasing number of public school students come from poor and/or immigrant families. School districts are completely strapped, thanks to the economy and the property tax cuts from the 2006 special session. How much more cutbacks can schools take? And why won’t Commissioner Scott show up at legislative hearings to answer these questions?

I’ll say it again, for the umpty-umpth time, that what we have here is first and foremost a revenue problem. At least some members of the Republican leadership are willing to admit that, even if they won’t admit that they caused this problem in the first place by supporting that ginormous unaffordable property tax cut from 2006. The system they want to scrap now is the one they created before as the solution to the previous system that they said needed to be scrapped. How many times are we going to repeat the same mistakes before we try a different approach?

It’s true, as Rep. Scott Hochberg discussed in his interview with me that there are savings to be found in the public school budget. They involve reallocating resources, not resorting to the lazy tactic of across-the-board cuts, as if no item in the budget is more important than any other. It does have the advantage of being easier than thinking, though.

Speaking of thinking, it would be a good idea if we all did some about the new end of course exams, their potential effect on graduation rates, and how we can best equip our teachers to get students ready for them. I expect exactly nothing on this from Governor Perry or Robert Scott, so it’ll be up to the rest of us to figure it out.

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