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Rally Day

Thanks in part to our only Governor, those attending today’s rally are even more fired up about it.

As thousands of teachers, school staffers and parents prepare for a state Capitol rally Saturday against education cuts, they’ve found new recruits and fresh motivation from an unlikely source: Gov. Rick Perry.

Reacting to Perry’s comments, some teachers and support staffers said Thursday they were angry and discouraged but mostly emboldened to publicly oppose billions of dollars of cuts in education.

Perry said state leaders were not to blame if as many as 100,000 people lose their jobs at school districts statewide.

“He just seems unaware of the agony schools are going through,” said Carolyn Foote, a librarian at Westlake High School in Eanes Independent School District near Austin. “It’s like a slap in the face to anyone working in education.”

[…]

“I think he’s been in office so long that he is going to get his way,” said Nadia Sanchez, a kindergarten teacher at Baskin Elementary in the San Antonio Independent School District. “I just don’t know if he’s ever going to understand.”

Other teachers, including Kimberly Reznicek, a fourth-grade teacher at Raba Elementary School in Northside ISD, thought Perry was passing the buck.

“He sounds like he is doing everything he can to be elusive to avoid answering the question that needs to be addressed: How is he going to fund school finance moving forward? That is a state government issue and all school districts can do is deal with how the state makes its school finance decisions. It’s not school districts’ fault,” Reznicek said.

I don’t know how many people are just now discovering this aspect of Perry’s personality, but I welcome them to the table anyway. And I sure hope they all remember this next November.

The Austin Chronicle has a great story on the people behind the effort.

Save Texas Schools fundraising committee co-Chair Brian Donovan said he’s inspired by the response coming from outside Austin. When the House released its draft budget, he said, “there were spitting mad editorials in Denton, Midland, and Odessa.” With that popular pressure rising, Donovan said, “a huge rally of angry parents from all over the state seemed the tonic needed to bring the Lege and leadership around to funding education as much as possible.”

By late February, Save Texas Schools already had 88 volunteer organizers around the state. That group includes people like Kimberly Miller, a Denton Independent School District resident whose whole family has signed up to help spread the word. Even though its population is rapidly expanding, Denton faces a $15 million-to-$16-million drop-off in state funding. “We’ve had a lot of public outcry in Austin about the cuts, and they have got coverage,” said Miller. “But talking to districts outside of the capital, they’ve found it very hard to get their story heard.”

The Save Texas Schools organizers soon found they were not alone in planning rallies and that others were eager to combine their efforts. Within days of the draft House budget being released, Weeks heard about statewide efforts being planned as far away as Pasadena and Arlington, where Leanne Rand was already working on her own protest. Like most parents of school-age children, Rand had heard about the state budget crisis. Yet it was purely an abstraction until the principal at her kids’ high school explained what the district’s projected $35 million shortfall would mean on his campus: fewer staff, less money for maintenance, and the loss of programs like Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities. Rand said, “Frank­ly, it made me mad, and I said something like, ‘We should march on Austin – I am going to organize a Million Mom March.'” While she admits she was half-joking at first, she was quickly contacted by parents who wanted to get involved, along with groups and businesses that wanted to sponsor Arlington’s attendance at the march.

The Dads Club at Arlington’s Butler Ele­ment­ary is pooling money to cover travel costs for teachers, and that effort is simply one part of a bigger push to get everyone informed about the issues and solutions. The North Arling­ton Education Alliance has scheduled a series of campus-based information sessions to walk people through the numbers. Butler Dads Club communications officer David Wil­banks is particularly worried about the extra stress the situation is placing on kids, but so far, he said, “Parents are uninformed as to how the state and our district woke up and found ourselves in this situation.”

How nice it would have been if people had woken up about this six months ago, but at least it’s happening now. I think it’s already had the effect of making some people nervous, as evidenced by this hysterical reaction from professional “drown it in the bathtub” advocate Peggy Venable:

[Allen Weeks, who heads the coalition’s steering committee and leads Austin Voices for Education and Youth, a nonprofit educational advocacy group that is helping coordinate the rally and handling donations] said the total cost of the rally and its promotion will be about $30,000, mostly direct and promotional costs. As of Thursday, 130 donors had contributed just under $23,000. Contributions have come in small amounts — the largest being three $1,000 donations — and “lots of in-kind volunteer hours,” he said.

Venable challenged Weeks’ grass-roots claim, and accused the coalition of spreading an “alarmist message.”

“These are radical liberal organizations that are pushing this, and they are using citizens who are ill-informed about how our dollars are currently being spent as pawns,” she said.

Hey, Peggy? Tell that to Bill Hammond:

Even the otherwise parsimonious Texas Association of Business has voiced concerns that slicing education funding now will endanger the state’s long-term economic viability. The group has called on lawmakers to use $1.9 billion from the Available School Fund to continue funding all-day prekindergarten and the technology allotment, as well as providing the updated textbooks required for the new curriculum. Normally a staunch opponent of government spending, TAB President Bill Ham­mond has become a vocal advocate for protecting education today to create better workers tomorrow. Hammond said, “The Legis­lature can and should invest in education and should make substantive reforms that ensure excellence over mediocrity.”

As a sign of how much of a political paradigm shift Save Texas Schools could be, Ham­mond is currently penciled in along with San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to speak at the March 12 rally. Weeks described that diversity of voices as vital in breaking any misconceptions about the breadth of support. He said, “If it’s another rally that people can say, ‘Oh, it’s those people again,’ then it’s not very effective.”

Like I said, judging by Venable’s paranoia, it’s already been effective. Now we just need to make sure there’s followup, during the session and in next year’s elections.

I will not be at the event, but I expect to receive reports and photos from it from some folks who are there. I will post them as I can. If you attend, please let us know how it’s going – leave comments or drop me a note at kuff – at – offthekuff – dot -com. Thanks!

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One Comment

  1. Kimmy says:

    Unfortunately, no reporter asked the right follow-up question, which was, “I think we can all agree that government typically has some amount of waste. It’s natural. But is it $9.8 billion worth of waste, plus the $4.3 billion to cover this biennium’s gap?”