Thousands Protest Possible Texas Education Cuts
By David Harrison, Staff Writer
Texas faces a shortfall of up to $27 billion in the next two years, prompting lawmakers, many of whom have pledged not to raise taxes, to look at dramatic cuts to state services. Roughly 100,000 teachers could lose their jobs under the budget proposal, boosting the ranks of the state's unemployed who already number about 1 million.
At the same time as the Austin rally was taking place, tens of thousands of people in Madison protested
legislation to strip public sector employees of collective bargaining rights. Similar rallies have taken place in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan during this contentious legislative session.
Many at the Texas rally had harsh words for Governor Rick Perry, who denied any responsibility for the potential job losses last week, saying that local school boards would be to blame for layoffs.
"I think it's outlandish that he could come there and say it's not his fault," said Kim Bales, a teacher from Humble, a Houston suburb. "The buck stops there I think." Bales' daughter, Merideth Seiler, a college student who wants to become a teacher, said she was worried about finding a job. "I think they will give us the opportunity to student-teach, but getting a job after that will be tough," she said.
Protestors called on lawmakers to use the state's rainy day fund to reduce school cuts, to reform the state's school funding structure and to accept federal aid for education that Congress approved last year but that has been held up over a provision inserted by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, that would put additional restrictions on how the state could spend the money.
"Funding in Texas is broken, funding in Texas is inequitable and funding in Texas is inadequate," said John Folks, superintendent of a San Antonio area district. Folks rebutted Perry's claim that local officials were at fault for cutting teachers. "We don't want to cut teachers, we want to hire teachers and we want to keep our teachers."
Charles Chadwell, a trustee from the Round Rock school system, said his district was looking for ways to cut $73 million from a $336 million budget. About a third of the district's funding comes from the state, he said. "We're looking at layoffs," he said. "We have to wait until they give us the final number."
Thanks to a warm spring day here, the rally felt more like a giant picnic than a protest, with families sitting on blankets spread on the grass and children wading in the fountains outside the Capitol. Many had brought umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun and to symbolize their call to tap into the rainy day fund.
"It's great to see such a turnout," said Marcia Kushner, who has spent 30 years working for the Houston school system. "This is our Wisconsin."