Save Texas Schools Declares Independence
Have Texas lawmakers made 'adequate yearly progress'?
If Texans want their independent school districts to stay independent, they must fight for them. That was the message of the March 24 Save Texas Schools rally at the Capitol, as public education advocates gathered to turn 2012 into an education election.
Save Texas Schools launched last year with a similar rally during the heart of the 82nd legislative session (see "Save Our Schools!," March 11, 2011), and while this year's was a much smaller affair, the core issue remained how Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature effectively devastated districts statewide by cutting school funding by $5.4 billion in the current two-year budget cycle. Northside ISD Superintendent John Folks explained, "Very simply, they are asking teachers, students, administrators, everyone: 'Let's do more and more, but you're going to do it with less and less.'"
Perrin-Whitt CISD Superintendent John Kuhn challenged voters to reverse the flow of accountability, as the Legislature has replaced "local control with Austin control and local blame," while state funding for public education has dropped by roughly $500 per student. Pointing to the Capitol behind him, he argued that Texans must ask themselves one question at the ballot box: "Have the elected officials in this building made 'adequate yearly progress'?"
In 2011, STS deliberately kept elected officials off the podium. This year, some of the loudest voices against the status quo were lawmakers. Many familiar faces, including most of the Travis County Democratic delegation, voiced their support for the movement: However, this was a pointedly bipartisan affair, and these strong words came from GOP State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff: "Every time the state board of education or the Legislature comes to town, the 'I' in ISD is under attack," he warned, adding, "Austin is just as bad as Washington at pushing unfunded mandates on our local independent schools."
Ratliff has joined an honor roll of elected officials under attack from anti-public-school forces. That list includes fellow speakers such as Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Travis County U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who warned the crowd: "The federal government isn't on the way with a rescue. We Texans have to rescue ourselves." That means ISDs will have to take more serious control of their own finances, and that may start sooner rather than later. One rally participant, Austin ISD Board of Trustees Vice President Vince Torres, told me that it's a matter of when, not if, the district asks voters to approve a tax increase.