The Kids Are Worth It
With a decision in the long-running school-finance lawsuit expected later this week, Linda Bridges, president of the Texas AFT, an Alliance state affiliate, put the legal issues in classroom perspective in an op-ed article published Wednesday by the Austin American-Statesman:
As teachers and parents filled the state Capitol in 2011 to fight unprecedented education cuts, a reporter asked why we kept on when the odds seemed stacked against us.
Our answer was simple: The kids are worth it.
Support for their education is not only a moral imperative and economic necessity — in Texas, it is a constitutional mandate.
This week, as teachers and students begin a new school year, our kids’ cause could receive powerful reinforcement in state district court in Austin.
District Judge John Dietz has been hearing a case brought by hundreds of school districts against the state alleging multiple violations of the Texas Constitution in the wake of the severe 2011 cuts.
These cuts totaling $5.4 billion reduced the teacher workforce by more than 10,000. Overall job losses topped 25,000, including many classroom educational aides whom students depended on for individualized instruction. Vital grant funding for full-day pre-K was wiped out, along with nearly all funds earmarked to ensure extra help for students struggling to meet state achievement targets.
Since 2011, these cuts have been only partially reversed. Annual funding on average remains some $600 lower per pupil than in 2008. While student enrollment has risen to more than 5 million — 60 percent economically disadvantaged students, 17 percent English language learners — the ongoing cuts have left them with 15,000 fewer teachers than they otherwise would have had. The continuing shortfalls mean Texas schoolchildren still sit in crowded classrooms; meanwhile, little has been done to restore lost funding for pre-K or those additional services for struggling students.
But the picture presented in Judge Dietz’s courtroom is actually worse than that, because the cuts have come on top of systematic inequity and inadequacy of school funding.
In Texas, a student’s educational opportunity depends to a shocking degree on that student’s ZIP code. A school district’s ability to meet students’ needs hinges significantly on the happenstance of local property wealth. Plaintiffs in the school-finance trial testified that the poorest 15 percent of districts have been compelled to make do with $73,000 less per classroom than the wealthiest 15 percent.
As state support has dwindled, even prosperous districts increasingly find they must tax to the maximum allowed by state law to meet rising state requirements.
The Texas Constitution requires the state to provide a free and effective system of public schools for all our children, not just some. Chances are good that Judge Dietz will jolt state officials by ruling that the current funding scheme is constitutionally inequitable, inadequate and in violation of the ban on a de-facto statewide property tax.
Then the Legislature will face a choice. State officials can continue to defend the indefensible and delay the case as long as possible on appeal. Or they can face up to the state’s duty to provide every child with a full opportunity to achieve his or her educational potential.
The timing is right. The state economy is booming, and the state treasury is overflowing with available revenue. Lawmakers have the wallet, if they have the will.
One thing is sure: The kids are worth it.
Stand up. Stand TOGETHER. Make a Difference.
REAL Results for Students and the Community