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Back to school

Time to do more with less, kids. Just don’t expect to be cut any slack on those standardized tests.

When Texas students return to public schools this week, some will see a slight uptick in class sizes and fewer teachers, while many will have to walk or get rides because bus service was cut to save money.

Last spring, parents and educators feared that state budget cuts would be so drastic they would lead to giant classes and 100,000 jobless educators. However, lawmakers scaled back the reductions amid protests, and recently released federal economic-stimulus funding also helped plug holes this year.

That’s one way of putting it, I guess, and it does at least acknowledge that public opinion was strongly against the massive cuts that were initially proposed by the State House, and which every single Republican in the State House voted for. I don’t believe the Senate was ever going to go along with that, so it’s not clear to me how much pressure the protests actually applied. I don’t want to downplay the effort because I think it was important and necessary, but as I said at the time if it’s not followed by electoral action against the many legislators who paid it no heed, then it was more noise than anything else.

Houston-area school officials said they have worked to make sure students won’t be severely hurt by the $4 billion statewide cut to public education over the next two years.

Yet some districts and schools are harder hit than others based on the state’s funding system, changes in student enrollment and the ways administrators chose to balance the books.

[…]

Few districts other than HISD have tracked individual employees since they initially received pink slips, making it impossible to determine how many teachers and other school workers are unemployed. Some who lost jobs have been absorbed into positions vacated through resignations and retirements.

Yet most local districts report that they will have fewer teachers and other staff this year. Katy ISD, which has 52 schools, will have one fewer teacher per campus on average, while the schools in Klein ISD will have one or two fewer teachers each.

Pasadena ISD laid off about 180 teachers in the spring, but at least 62 have been rehired.

We know that HISD has hired back some teachers, as has Austin ISD. The reason for this is that most school districts had to finalize their own budgets before the Lege finished its budget, so they mostly prepared for the worst and got lucky. It must be noted that the Lege backloaded its cuts to public education, meaning that there will be less money for the 2012-2013 school year than there was for this one, so some of those folks that got hired back will be in peril again. And the long term picture remains grim.

Alamo Heights ISD Superintendent Kevin Brown says recent budget cuts forced him to increase some high school classes by three students each. That means teachers with full course loads will be responsible for 18 more teenagers a day, and Brown knows an increasing number of them will come from disadvantaged homes.

β€œI think we are setting ourselves up as a state for a very challenging future,” said Brown, who has spent the summer adjusting his district’s budget because of state cuts. β€œIt’s very frustrating.”

In the past decade, Texas’ population soared by 4 million residents and its public schools became poorer and more Hispanic. Since 2000, enrollment has grown by 874,000 to 4.9 million school children, but the number of students from low-income families has increased by more than 913,000. Studies indicate that children from low-income families cost more to educate.

And that’s from one of the wealthier districts in the state. Texas’ public school students are increasingly from low-income families, yet we’re cutting teachers and support staff, reducing college opportunities, eliminating bus service, and charging students for extracurriculars, athletics, and a whole host of other things. We’re doing everything in our power, in other words, to ensure they have a low-income future. Have a great year, kids.

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