Sunday, May 1, 2011

Exploring New Solutions for Texas Education

In a state facing a $15 billion budget shortfall, almost every aspect of government will be experiencing cuts this session. Money allocated for education, which accounts for 56.3% percent of the overall budget, will have to be reduced as a result of this budget decrease. The easiest way for school districts to accommodate these budget changes under current Texas law is to simply layoff teachers because many other options, such as reducing teacher salaries, are prohibited. 

Early predictions estimated that about 80,000 to 100,000 teachers across the state would lose their jobs as a result of the budget shortfall. Many legislators have asserted that the best option is to adjust current law to accommodate changes in the budget, allowing districts more control over how they spend their budgets. By giving school districts the ability to increase class sizes, reduce teacher salaries and offer more unpaid furlough days, many teachers may be able to keep their jobs.

Everyone can agree that education is of the utmost importance. Our children are our future and the quality of their education contributes significantly to their success. Furthermore, every parent wants to see that our education system improves over time. We all want future generations to have better than what we had.

I admire the work of the Texas Senate Education Committee’s attempts to find a compromise between administrators and teachers, but is changing Texas law really the best way to address the budget shortfall? Texas teachers have fought for years to get the minimum teacher salary where it stands today at about $27,000 for first-year teachers. One thing the republicans in the legislature hate more than suggesting using the rainy day fund is suggesting higher taxes, but that may be another solution to the $15 billion shortfall, which is rarely discussed.

Some of the ideas proposed by the legislature I believe would really help alleviate the pressure put on school districts due to dramatically decreased budgets. Allowing more furlough days for teachers is a great place to start, but raising taxes or dipping into the rainy day fund would significantly reduce the amount of teachers being laid off as a result of decreased budgets. The two most important education bills proposed in the Texas legislature, SB 12 and HB 400, both of which would allow more furlough days for teachers, but we will have to continue waiting for a budget to pass both chambers to know if the rainy day fund will be used.

-Kaitlyn Van Gorkom

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