Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's Important to Talk With Your Friends About the #TxEdBudget Crisis!

Because Texas school districts are already announcing layoffs and program cuts, I think there is a perception among the general public that the state budget is a done deal and there is nothing they can do. That's far from the truth. The budget won't be finalized until the end of the summer; unfortunately, districts have to begin planning now for the worst case scenario.

Although I have concerns that all of the cuts being made now won't be undone if the legislature ever comes to its senses, I think as citizens it is our responsibility to continue to advocate for the best interest of Texas students and educators, and it is not too late to make our wishes known and insist that our representatives really look at what they are doing as they push our education system toward the precipice. (On this theme, hats off to parents and teachers in Pflugerville ISD who aren't going down without a fight.)

This week I was at a church event, and because I'm an educator the topic of budget cuts came up. A mom who was at the event shared with me that she was involved in a Moms in Touch prayer group that faithfully gathers every week to pray for their children's schools, and that they had been praying for teachers and schools in the face of the budget cutbacks. Several of the moms have special needs children, and they were particularly concerned about what staffing reductions would mean for the services provided to their kids.

I thanked her profusely for the prayers, because being a Christian I definitely believe the master plan is in His hands.

I then ventured on to say that there was something else the moms could do - they could write their legislators with their concerns. I admit I was a little tentative because I did not want to offend by accidentally implying that prayer wasn't important or wasn't enough. You can imagine my relief when she said, "Really? We just don't know what to do or where to start." I offered to send her some information, and she gladly accepted the offer and said she would pass the information on to the other moms in her group.

As I composed an email to send to the mom I had spoken with, I found it difficult to distill down all of the information I have been consuming on this topic. I know it is important when communicating information like this to not overwhelm people. It's also important not to insult specific politicians or parties. We need to educate people with the facts, but not alienate them by making this a party-line issue.

Below is the text of the email I sent the concerned mom from my church. I would appreciate feedback on how you would tweak it to share with folks who might not be keeping up with the situation as closely as some of us are.

And, if you find value in it, please feel free to share with anyone who might benefit from this information and be encouraged to contact their legislators.

Subject: Texas Education Budget Cuts
Thank you again so much for being willing to share information with your Moms in Touch group! Feel free to share this with others whom you think might also be interested.
The main issue is that the state is looking at an overall shortfall of $27 billion in the state budget. Both the Senate and House released preliminary budgets which zero out all grant funded programs for schools, such as Pre-K, arts education, and technology funding.
In addition to cutting grant funded programs, the current proposed budgets cut the basic "allotment" that districts get for each student they teach, and they do not allow funding for any new students that come in to the schools.

Some school districts have their own "rainy day" funds, but not all do. And even if they do, in most cases it is not enough to make up for a reduction in their basic allotment plus cutting funds for grant programs. Since about 85% of an average district's budget goes to employee salaries, they have no choice but to cut staffing positions to make up for the shortfall from the state. That is why districts are starting to let teachers and staff know they will not have jobs next year in preparation for the worst case scenario. Estimates are 100,000 educators in Texas could be laid off at the end of this school year.

Cutting back on staff in this dramatic way will impact student instruction, as the students will receive less individualized attention in larger classes and specialists like speech pathologists or physical therapists will have larger case loads. Other types of positions being cut in many districts are registered school nurses, librarians, and instructional coaches who help teachers keep up to date on the latest teaching methods.

In addition, having all of those educators out of work will impact the Texas economy.

The state has a "rainy day" fund of $9.4 billion dollars that they could tap in to. If they spent all of it, it would make up for the education portion of the funding deficit. So far, Governor Perry has been discouraging the spending of any of that fund, and the legislature has been planning the huge budget cuts accordingly. But they are starting to discuss using the Texas rainy day fund, largely because constituents have been writing and asking them to make education funding more of a priority.

The number one thing anyone who is concerned can do is write their legislators.

I think hearing from parents is the most powerful thing, so if the moms and dads you know could write to their legislators telling them to make school funding a priority, that will definitely help encourage the legislature to approach this budget shortfall in a more balanced way. Cuts may be necessary, but a reduction at the currently proposed levels is going to be devastating to school districts and their programs.

The Save Texas Schools website has a lot of great information: They even have sample letters you can send to your legislators, but I would suggest customizing them and telling the stories of how programs and teachers have impacted your own children. The sample letters can be found here: Emails, snail mail, and phone calls are all important.

Find out your legislators here:

Contact Governor Perry here:

If folks want more information, here are some places to find it:

I would encourage anyone who wants more information on how this is going to impact their specific school district to go to the district's website and look for information. Many districts are posting their proposed budget cuts. Here are a couple of examples:

Round Rock ISD:
Pflugerville ISD:

Basic Overview of What's Being Cut from the Preliminary State Budget:

Article on History and Purpose of Texas Rainy Day Fund:

One of the things I hear from people I know is questions about why teachers want so much for themselves because the Wisconsin teachers are getting so much national attention. In Texas, we are not unionized and do not have collective bargaining rights. We aren't asking for more benefits - just to keep our jobs and as a result of that to keep schools appropriately staffed. Here is an article which discusses the differences between Texas and Wisconsin:


I hope this hasn't been too much information. I'm no political expert, but I am very concerned about our children's educational futures and he future of the teaching profession in Texas.

If you have questions, please let me know.

Your prayers are also needed! Especially for our leaders' wisdom, and for educators to trust in God's promises and provision as we face uncertain job futures - for many of us for the first time in our lives.

Thank you again!!!!

A quick followup email I sent: I forgot to mention in that giant email that folks on Facebook can follow Save Texas Schools there. It's a good way to stay informed on the situation.!/pages/Save-Texas-Schools/121711224567387

Thanks again!!!

So, there you have it. How would you improve it?

More importantly, who are you going to share this information with? Educators who may be in denial? Concerned parents and citizens who don't know if there is anything they can do? Think of the people in your life that fit into these categories, and find ways to share with them today!

Blog post photo from Morgue File, used with permission: