Well, for starters, there’s larger class sizes.
Northside’s predicament mirrors that of several other local districts with expanding enrollments. It’s part of the argument hundreds of Texas districts are making in an ongoing school finance lawsuit against the state, blaming lawmakers for a funding scheme that doesn’t keep up with growth.
Administrators say larger classes are cheaper than hiring more teachers. There’s no state limit on class size for grades 5-12. In kindergarten through fourth grade, school districts must seek permission to go above 22 students per teacher — and the number of requests for such waivers from several local districts has skyrocketed in the past two years.
School boards, lawmakers and even presidential candidates this year debated whether larger classes hurt education.
“I would say that the majority of those people who say class size doesn’t matter haven’t been in a classroom in a long time,” Southwest ISD Superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft said. “To think we can take a college format with larger sizes and bring it down to lower grade levels, where students still are developing socially as well as academically, is a farce. These kids need attention and interventions.”
Southwest ISD has found a way around the waiver requirement by using a “multi-grade” setup, placing some students overflowing from a lower grade into a higher grade classroom and having the teacher instruct the appropriate curriculum. Verstuyft said the district might need to end that experiment and opt for waivers — enrollment is swelling with population attracted by nearby manufacturing plants and the Eagle Ford Shale energy drilling boom.
Now at 13,024 students, Southwest added about 600 in each of the past two years since the Legislature cut its funding by almost $12 million.
FYI, Southwest ISD’s revenue for 2011-12 was $105 million, so they experienced a ten percent growth in enrollment over the past two years while dealing with a ten percent cut in funding. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for continued success to me. But surely with all that extra revenue coming into the state things will be better in the next biennium, right?
Republican leaders heading into the new legislative session say they are in no hurry to undo billions of dollars in cuts to public schools made two years ago.
Despite pressure from teacher groups and others, top lawmakers cited holes they must patch in the current budget, a general caution about higher spending and a desire to see how courts rule in the latest suit over how the state funds education.
Many school districts, pointing to an improved Texas economy, are seeking relief. But key budget-writers say the initial two-year plan they’ll unveil soon won’t replace the $5.4 billion the last Legislature sliced from state maintenance and operation aid and discretionary grants.
That means no substantial help to handle bigger classes and no restored grants for half-day prekindergarten and remedial instruction, decisions that are expected to rekindle tensions with school advocates calling for more money.
“The introduced bill won’t have that,” though it may include an additional $1 billion or so to cover student enrollment growth, said Rep. Jim Pitts, the Waxahachie Republican who heads the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
Pitts said he expects Comptroller Susan Combs’ two-year revenue estimate, which limits what lawmakers can spend, “to be pretty conservative, and so we’re being very conservative.”
Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said GOP leaders probably are posturing, comparing it to the initial House proposal two years ago for $9 billion in school cuts.
“The story became the restoration of some of the cuts instead of focusing on how can we cut $5.4 billion from education in a school system that we’re holding to higher and higher standards,” said Strama, a member of the Public Education Committee.
“That was actually a smart political strategy to sell a dumb public policy.”
Strama said Republican leaders may ease up some when a final budget starts taking shape.
Don’t count on it, though, said Rep. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican who, with tea party support, upset an ally to Speaker Joe Straus two years ago — and then beat him again in a primary rematch this year.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “We’re not going to do any restoration.”
So there you have it. Frankly, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on them to add funding to cover enrollment growth. It’s not a priority for them. I’ll say it again, nothing will change until the government changes. It’s as simple as that. EoW has more.