Texas Budget Cuts Would Sink Education

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March 9, 2011; Source: Houston Chronicle | In an effort to create attention for the realities of huge cuts in public education, Texas state legislature, Representative Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) has developed a strategy. He has introduced a bill that he would never vote for.

Hochberg’s bill would create a totally equalized school funding system with no rich or poor school districts as the state implements a $10 million budget cut (as is proposed by his Republican legislative counterparts).

All school districts would be treated as equal passengers on the Titanic, Hochberg said.

Hochberg's bill would result in a cut of $1,328 per pupil in the Houston Independent School District, $1,282 per student in Spring Branch, and $455 per pupil in Cypress-Fairbanks. Taken another way, equalization – which Texas has long needed – plus the $10 billion cut would eliminate 20 percent of the Houston ISD budget, a prospect a Houston spokesperson called "catastrophic."

Hochberg has no intention of voting for his own bill. He was just making a point of showing the magnitude in per pupil terms of this mammoth proposed cut. On the Republican side, legislators are trying to find ways of making billion dollar education cuts more palatable, such as State Senator Florence Shapiro's (R-Plano) idea to "free schools from mandates and rules, giving them greater flexibility to handle budget cuts."

The freedom her bill would allow would be that school districts could cut teacher pay and temporarily furlough teachers on non-instructional days. Give Hochberg credit. He devised a way to show an all-things-being-equal calculation of the impact of the budget cuts that every taxpayer and certainly every parent of a schoolchild can readily see. Disaggregating state and federal budget cuts so that citizens can see the community-, neighborhood-, and family-specific impacts is a powerful public policy advocacy technique.—Rick Cohen