Thousands protest cuts to Texas school budgets

March 12, 2011 11:33:14 AM PST
Thousands of teachers, students and parents rallied at the Texas Capitol on Saturday to protest $10 billion in education cuts they say will ruin public schools.

Buses carrying groups from across the state reached Austin early Saturday morning and a seven-block-long procession marched through the state government campus to the south steps of the Capitol. More than 80 parents and teachers from the Houston area have signed up for the Save Texas Schools rally.

Texas is facing a $27 billion budget shortfall caused by the recession and a new business tax that has not raised as much money as expected. Independent experts have estimated a third of Texas school teachers could lose their jobs if lawmakers adopt the draft budget. "It's going to ruin our public school system, we are going to have huge class sizes," former school teacher Nancy Lomax said. "It'll be a horrible burden on our teachers. I work 60 hours a week teaching English and I know my daughter is a teacher now in fourth grade -- she works at least 60 hours a week."

Kerry Hart, a special education teacher from Round Rock, said his local school board has cut his program that helps autistic children integrate into regular classes.

Much of the anger at the rally was focused on Gov. Rick Perry, who has rejected any proposal to raise state revenues or to tap the state's $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund. On Wednesday, Perry, who has the support of Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature, shrugged off responsibility for laying-off teachers.

"The lieutenant governor, the speaker and their colleagues are not going to hire or fire one teacher, as best as I can tell," he said, when asked what he would say to those rallying in Austin. He said decisions to fire teachers are made at the school district level and suggested schools could do a better job of reducing administrative bloat.

School superintendents, though, insist the 34 percent reduction in state spending forces them to lay off teachers. On Saturday, Marcus Jauregue held up a massive report card giving the conservative Republican straight F's and shouting: "Show your face Rick Perry."

The Save Texas Schools Rally followed local protests at school board meetings. Teachers and parents quickly traced the proposed cuts back to lawmakers trying to balance the state budget. Many of Saturday's protestors carried umbrellas to signify the need to tap the Rainy Day Fund.

Protestors also asked Perry to sign paperwork that will allow schools to receive about $830 million set aside by Congress for Texas schools. The money has gotten caught up in political maneuvering with Washington, and Perry has refused to sign the application that he says has too many strings attached.