• Second in a series
Educators and other supporters of public education from across Texas are expected in Austin on Saturday.
Organizers are hoping for at least 10,000 people to show and march on the state Capitol.
“From all corners of the state, Texans are traveling to Austin on March 12 to send a loud, unified message to our elected officials: Keep Texas smart by funding public education,” said Allen Weeks of Save Texas Schools.
In the face of an expected $27 billion shortfall in revenue to the state, lawmakers are eyeing $10 billion in cuts to public education. A grass roots coalition, Save Texas Schools formed to advocate against those cuts in light of their impact on students and teachers.
The march will start at 11 a.m. at 12th and Trinity, one block east of the Capitol grounds. Attendees will march from there to the Capitol, where a rally will be held from noon-2 p.m. on the south steps.
According to the website, www.savetxschools.org, the rally seeks to direct lawmakers’ attention to three points:
• using the $9.3 billion Texas Rainy Day Fund to help rescue schools from the current crisis
• signing the paperwork for $830 million in federal aid for teachers
• fixing school funding laws to be fair to all districts and the growing student population
The state’s $27 billion shortfall (which includes a $4.3 billion shortfall in the current, 2010-2011 biennium) is the result, in part, of a structural deficit created by lawmakers in 2005.
During a special session to address school funding, lawmakers cut property taxes by one-third while increasing business and cigarette taxes.
“These changes did not produce enough money to offset funds lost due to property tax cuts,” Save Texas Schools notes on its website, defining a structural deficit as something that continues to exist no matter how well the economy does.
“Though the size of the gap may fluctuate, it will persist in boom or bust because of the way the tax law is structured,” the website reads, indicating there will always be a shortage in public education funding unless the issue is addressed.
During a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon, representatives for Gov. Rick Perry said he would not be supportive of any legislation to change current law.
Appropriations Vice Chairman Sylvester Turner described the business franchise tax law as approved in 2005 as “underperforming” and “a hot check” to the tune of $1 billion a year.
“That’s creating a $2 billion drag on us every biennium,” Turner said, asking why Perry wouldn’t want to fix the “loopholes” businesses are legally using relating to the business franchise tax.
“(Perry) will not sign a tax bill in this session,” said Ken Armbrister, legislative director for the governor’s office. “I’m telling you his official position and what he’s authorized us to say. … He will not sign an increase in any tax bill.”
Besides the structural deficit, Save Texas Schools also notes a combination of other factors combining to affect public education funding.
“In addition, the national economic downturn caused a drop in state sales tax collections, which are only now starting to rebound. And one-time general revenue funds and federal stimulus funds – both of which were used to help balance the previous state budget – are no longer available,” according to Save Texas Schools.
Another looming issue with House Bill 1 is that, as it stands, the next biennium’s budget provides no funding for growth – and some estimates indicate as many as 170,000 new students will show up at Texas public schools in the fall.
“ … enrollment in Texas schools and community colleges continues to grow, while at the same time, declining property values have resulted in falling local property tax revenues. Together, these factors amount to a perfect budget storm – and a perfect mess for Texas schools,” Save Texas Schools says.
$10 billion cut
Education consultants Casey, Moak & Associates have crunched numbers based on several scenarios, with those numbers indicating Ellis County ISDs could see cuts ranging as follows:
• Avalon ISD – $103,104 to $464,046
• Ennis ISD – $4,113,099 to $5,878,089
• Ferris ISD – $1,036,852 to $2,645,309
• Italy ISD – $315,663 to $793,191
• Maypearl ISD – $787,307 to $1,280,670
• Midlothian ISD – $7,830,547 to $10,323,220
• Milford ISD – $222,791 to $355,277
• Palmer ISD – $698,236 to $1,358,360
• Red Oak ISD – $3,320,559 to $5,678,512
• Waxahachie ISD – $7,608,309 to $8,851,961
House Bill 1 only sets forth the total amount cut from public education; the exact manner of how the $10 billion cut is divided up amongst the different school districts remains to be determined under separate legislation.
“It has not been this ugly in anyone’s living memory,” Joe Wisnoski of Casey, Moak and Associates told the Daily Light. “There hasn’t been a time since the 1950s, when funding formulas were enacted, when the Legislature said it could not live up to the formulas that were there.”
Once the districts learn their share of the cut, decisions will have to be made.
“Most are going to say (their cut will be in) people,” Wisnoski said. “The education business is 80-percent people, on average. There’s not much you can do to avoid cuts in people.
“You can try to conserve a little bit (in non-payroll budget items), but by and large a lot of this is going to come back to payroll,” he said. “There will either be fewer people working or people making less money. That’s the cold, hard facts of it.”
In a February hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Dr. Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center in Austin, testified, “It will not be easier to fix next time. We must take this opportunity to begin transforming the Texas public school funding system into one that is equitable and efficient for both children and taxpayers.
“If we don’t, the problems will only get worse,” Pierce told the lawmakers. “You will be faced with them next time and every time, when it will be even more difficult.”
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