Teaching on the Cheap: Texas Schools Respond to Budget Crisis

Like many other states, Texas is responding to budget shortfalls by cutting funding for education. The cuts are leading schools to get creative and, in many cases, desperate. Meanwhile, parents are debating what's necessary, teacher morale is suffering and deeper cuts loom on the horizon.

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texas state education funding cuts

Massive Cuts

The old saying about everything being bigger in Texas isn't always a good thing. When it came time to make cuts before the 2011-2012 school year, the state cut $5.4 billion from public education. That's one of the largest cuts in the state's history.

The cuts are impacting every aspect of education. More than 12,000 teachers and support staff have lost their jobs. Reforms that could have been put in place were cut or put on hold. Every role, including teachers' aides, bus drivers and crossing guards, has suffered.

Searching for Solutions

Different districts are finding different ways to respond. In some areas, schools are offering parents the opportunity to make donations in order to continue offering bus transportation. They're often doing the same thing to keep sports, uniforms and field trips on the table. This puts school services at the mercy of their parents' ability and willingness to give.

In other areas, parents are debating whether football, which is sacred to many in Texas, should be considered more essential than academics. Those in favor of sports argue that they'd rather see non-core subject areas, such as art and music, cut while football is spared.

Many advocates for education say that the solution is to fight the state government to change course. Education, they say, is getting sacrificed unnecessarily. In fact, Texas has approximately $5 billion in a rainy day fund. That money mostly comes from the oil and gas industry. Yet Texas Governor Rick Perry adamantly refuses to release the extra cash.

If a large collection of schools has its way, Perry may not have a choice. Over 300 school districts are suing the state. Their goal is to for the courts to declare the cuts to education unconstitutional. If they've victorious, the state could be forced to spend more on schools.

Morale Suffers

The Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers recently completed a survey of about 3,500 teachers and school employees in order to document the effects of the cuts. They found that the cuts are devastating morale.

Almost every respondent has seen a fellow teacher lose his or her job. Meanwhile, the teachers report lacking the time to plan lessons, adequately prepare for class and offer individual attention to students. This is due to class sizes swelling across the state. For example, around 7,000 schools obtained waivers to raise their K-4 classes beyond the state maximum of 22 students. This gives teachers more work, more stress and more frustration.

The effects of the cuts are likely to have long-term implications. Overworked teachers will hamper students' educations as time passes. Furthermore, as the teachers who remain burn out, they may leave the profession, with less experienced teachers taking their place. While the budget crisis in Texas is a present reality, and more cuts are expected, the decision to slash education funding may be crippling the state's future.

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