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Senate approves teacher furlough bill

Another divisive bill, another party-line vote.

Legislation allowing school districts to reduce teacher pay and furlough them — to help absorb big budget cuts — sailed through the Texas Senate on Monday with a straight party-line vote.

Lawmakers are working to cut $4 billion from the state’s 1,040 public school districts. Giving school administrators flexibility to cut teacher pay and allow up to six days of unpaid leave — which existing law does not allow — will save teacher jobs, Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said of school reform measure SB 8.

[…]

Shapiro, the Senate education chairwoman, said school reforms “allow our school districts to get through a temporary problem with a temporary solution. There is nothing in this bill that has to be forever.”

[Sen. Wendy] Davis and several other Democrats tried unsuccessfully to put a firm, two-year expiration on the school reforms.

Objectively, I can see the argument for allowing school districts to use furloughs or pay cuts as an alternative to firing teachers. If you’re going to underfund the school districts, you have to give them some means to deal with it. But here again, the Republicans are essentially saying “Trust me” about the objections to their bill when they could have fairly dealt with those objections in the bill itself. If this is a temporary solution as Sen. Shapiro says, then why not put a sunset date on it? Instead, they did this:

The Senate bill also would eliminate seniority protection for certain teachers and allow districts to non-renew teacher contracts much closer to the end of the school year. The legislation does not address class size or the minimum salary schedule for teachers as did a House bill that was killed during the regular session. Shapiro said the new authority for school districts would expire as soon as education funding levels exceed those of the 2010-11 biennium.

Who’s to say that funding levels will ever exceed those of this biennium? The Republicans have changed the way public education is financed. It’s no longer the case that funding is determined by formula. Public schools are now funded the same way everything else is and thus are now subject to being cut if that’s what the Lege needs to do to balance the budget. Why should anyone take the Republicans at their word on this? Their actions – and Dan Patrick’s words – speak so much louder.

[Fort Bend ISD science teacher Randy] Colbert said his Republican friends and family are upset that lawmakers are cutting education instead of pulling money out of the state’s $6.5 billion rainy day fund, which the Legislature created more than 20 years ago specifically to spare education from cuts during bad economic times.

“They are ready to vote these people out. They want education to be first, not first cut,” Colbert said.

I sure hope the plural of anecdote is data in this case. It’s going to take a lot of people like that changing their voting habits to undo what has been done here. A bunch of petition signatures are nice, but it’s votes we need. If there aren’t significant changes in the Legislature for 2013, it’s just going to be more of the same.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, said the public education funding cuts are unwanted but a necessary reaction to hard economic times.

“And we have to live within our means,” she said.

Huffman’s talks with Houston-area school superintendents convinced her funding cuts — in the 6 percent range for most school districts in the first year — are something the schools can handle.

“Hopefully, in two years, the economy will have turned around, and we can hope for more funding for the schools,” she said.

Huffman figures the state could not afford to dip into the rainy day fund because “we have to be prepared for the future. I feel we have done what we can under the political climate and under the circumstances.”

Actually, Sen. Huffman, the reason the Republicans aren’t using the Rainy Day Fund to mitigate these cuts to public education is because their dishonest budgeting gimmicks have forced them to reserve that money for the Medicaid hot check they’ve written. And I’d like to know who those “Houston-area school superintendents” are and what exactly they said. That may be your interpretation of what they said, but then it would be, wouldn’t it?

The Senate is now done with these bills. Today the House will take up SB8, and will also vote on legislation that will increase the class size limit. The Statesman has more.

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3 Comments

  1. John says:

    Kuff (or others)

    I am curious we keep hearing the $4B number mentioned as being cut. Does someone know the actual numbers spend on Public Ed last year vs what is being proposed? Is the delta of those two numbers $4B, or is it a case that the funding formula said it should go up by $4B but the State is just keeping public ed funding flat? I am not being a smart a$$ and I am not one of those who is a fan of cutting education just curious because I have heard different figures of the actual dollars being spent getting thrown around.

    So is it a true cut or is it just a cut from what the formula says schools are due?

    John

  2. Ron in Houston says:

    Amen to changing voting habits. Petitions and demonstrations all make for good theater but what were people thinking when they went into the voting booth and voted these morons into office?

  3. John – I’m working on getting you an answer. I’ve passed your question on to some legislative folks, who are understandably a bit busy today, and will get back to you when they get back to me.