Rep. Scott Hochberg has filed a school finance bill that he himself wouldn’t vote for. It’s to make sure everyone realizes what the proposed cuts to public education really mean.
Under HB 2485, all school districts would be treated as equal passengers on the Titanic, Hochberg, D-Houston, said Tuesday, as Senate members on the other side of the Capitol discussed ways to allow schools to furlough teachers and modify class size limits in an effort to deal with the budget crisis.
“All are in the same lifeboats,” he said.
Without lawmakers finding new revenue or pulling money out of the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund, Hochberg’s bill would mean a $326 million cut for Houston ISD, or about $1,328 less per student. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD would see a $60 million cut, or $455 less per student; Spring Branch would get cut $52 million, or $1,282 per student.
“It’s important for members to know what $9.8 billion (in cuts) means, and what it means for their school districts,” Hochberg said.
The proposed $9.8 billion cut in the basic public education funding program does not include at least $1.3 billion in discretionary state grants covering services such as Pre-K, dropout prevention programs and teacher excellence bonus awards.
Hochberg’s bill is largely an effort to create attention for the realities of mega cuts in public education.
It would cut about 20 percent out of the Houston ISD budget.
“For us to make that kind of cut would vastly impact schools. You are talking about significantly fewer teachers when students return to class next fall,” Houston ISD spokesman Jason Spencer said. “You are talking about layoffs the likes of which this school district hasn’t seen in generations. It’s catastrophic.”
Remember, HISD is assuming they’ll lose about $170 million, or half of what Hochberg says they would as things currently stand. “Catastrophic” is a good word for this. The question, given the blind allegiance to not finding new revenues, is whether the reality of what that means will make legislative Republicans reconsider their positions. All I can say right now is that I hope they feel very uncomfortable.
More on Hochberg’s bill is at Postcards and the Trib, with the latter including audio from an interview with him. You can see HB2485 here, and you can see the effect on each ISD in this Excel spreadsheet on Hochberg’s website. Burka and BOR have more.
The story also notes that the Senate Education Committee laid out two bills to give school districts “flexibility” in dealing with whatever lack of funds they are given. These are committee chair Sen. Florenence Shapiro’s SB3, which would among other things allow for furloughs and teacher pay cuts, and Sen. Dan Patrick’s SB443, which would raise the class size limit for grade K through 4. Abby Rapoport has a good summary of the discussion about those bills. This bit, about SB443, is the key:
The latter change is pretty straight forward. The state currently allows schools with an “exemplary” rating to forgo a variety of requirements. Since exemplary schools have the highest rank, the logic goes, they don’t need to be told how to provide an education. Patrick would let “recognized” campuses—the second tier in the ranking system—have the same privileges.
According the Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis, that would mean around 70 percent of campuses would be exempt from a whole lot of the state regulations. She questioned witnesses, and Patrick himself, with unveiled skepticism, arguing the bills were “using the budget crisis for purposes of changing policy.” Much like [Sen. Royce] West, she argued the only reason the Senate would consider such a rule change would be to help the districts save money in anticipation of inevitably deep cuts to education.
In other words, the Republican way to deal with education funding shortfalls is to lower our standards. That’s pretty much all there is to it.