If nothing else, we have a clear winner in the furloughs versus layoffs debate.
School superintendents want more freedom in determining class sizes and permission to cut employee pay or to furlough teachers and other district employees, which school boards cannot do today under state law.
School districts also could save money by using the Internet to provide public notice about budget issues or hearings that now require paid advertising in newspapers, they said.
There will be many such hearings in coming months as Texas lawmakers deal with a budget shortfall estimated at $15 to $27 billion without raising revenue or dipping into the state’s $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund. Preliminary budgets released by the House and Senate last month would take a $10 billion slice out of public education.
“Recognize and be aware that this is the new normal,” Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said during the daylong hearing on the challenge facing both legislators and school officials.
Sen. Shapiro has now filed a bill to allow school districts to cut pay and impose furloughs, among other things. It’s not fleshed out yet, so it’s too early to say what exactly it means. The bill in question is SB468.
Let’s be perfectly clear about what this all means:
Furloughs of teachers, support staff and administrators, including superintendents, may be one way for school districts to absorb some of the budget cuts. Increasing class sizes would put the state on a retreat from the 1984 landmark public education reform in HB 72 that capped public classroom sizes at 22 students per teacher in kindergarten and the first four elementary school grades.
“Our members are extremely concerned that a temporary budget crisis is going to drive permanent change in policy that will do lasting damage to students’ education and to our schools that will set us back for a very long period of time,” said Eric Hartman, of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.
Liberating school districts from various mandates will not be nearly enough to absorb the budget cuts, they said.
The bigger issue will be the state’s effort to embrace new school accountability measures and increased academic rigor prescribed by HB 3 that lawmakers approved in 2009, said Richard Kouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.
“You do not have the resources for the system to accept the mission that you have laid out,” Kouri said.
Add this to the pile, too:
If the Legislature fails to reform the state’s school financing formulas this session, [Texas Education Agency chief Robert] Scott said, a new school finance lawsuit over the equitable funding of districts will be “an inevitable reality.” Scott also addressed the possibility of postponing the roll-out of the state’s new student assessment program, the STAAR test — an idea that drew cheers from the audience. While he said the Texas Education Agency is on track to roll out the new standards, he said that will be “the debate of this Legislature.”
“If you are 15 billion in the hole, what are you going to do with student expectations?” Scott said, adding, “If there is no money, will you raise standards?”
Quite the reverse, it would seem. Put aside the question of how many teachers will ultimately get fired for a moment. The bottom line is that these “flexibility” measures are about undoing previous attempts to make schools and students perform better. Doing these things costs money, so since we don’t have any money we just won’t do them. I trust no one will be surprised when test scores go down and dropout rates go up and other bad things happen. Abby Rapoport has more.
Finally, it should be noted that some money-saving ideas don’t involve these kinds of cuts. State Sen. Wendy Davis has filed a bill that would give school districts the same 20% discount to their base electricity rate that Texas’ colleges and universities get, which would save them a few bucks here and there. That bill is SB504, and I would certainly hope that it can pass easily. Her press release is here. Also, State Rep. Mike Villarreal is circulating a petition to protest the Pitts and Ogden budgets. Please take a moment to add your name to it.