01/26/2011

Texas AFT Members Fight To Keep Reasonable Class Sizes

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It's the rainy season in Texas, at least when it comes to state education funding, which conservative lawmakers aim to slash by an average of $1,000 per pupil. But Texas AFT members are calling on the Legislature to save manageable class sizes by tapping the state's $10 billion rainy day fund.

Two-year budget plans just introduced in the state House and Senate are coming up $9.6 billion short of already inadequate funding. Among other cuts, the Senate's draft budget would kill two-year funding streams totaling more than $1 billion for prekindergarten, at-risk student programs, and teacher training to improve high school completion. The plan also would chop in half the state's contribution to retiree healthcare and shrink the state's contribution to school employee pensions to the minimum required by law.

Yet, the Texas governor and conservative legislators say they won't touch the state's rainy day fund. That makes no sense, says Texas AFT, because it's raining now.

"The worst thing a state can do in an economic downturn is to weaken basic public services," says Texas AFT president and AFT vice president Linda Bridges. "Strong schools are especially critical to our children's future. Our children's teachers need to be in the classroom, not in the unemployment line."

Texas rally photo by Judy Horton  In a push to maintain decent class sizes and other vital education initiatives, Texas AFT members are coalescing around the state's class size law, which holds down the student-teacher ratio in grades K-4. The state federation also is trying to maintain overall school funding. AFT members are pulling out their umbrellas, wearing stickers and making signs that say "It's Raining Now!" to impress upon their elected officials the importance of using state and local rainy day funds.

Without such emergency action, media accounts say Houston schools may have to slash $200 million to $300 million; Dallas, $60 million to $130 million; and San Antonio, $30 million to $60 million.

In Austin, which stands to lose more than $100 million in 2011-12 alone, many community partners joined Education Austin on Jan. 24, when more than 300 parents, students and union members packed a school board meeting to avert school closings and layoffs, and to preserve pre-K and arts education as well as adequate funding for school libraries.

Texas AFT is warning that drastic cuts in state aid would prompt legal action because the state constitution requires adequate and equitable funding for public schools. By the time legislators begin voting on budget measures in March, union members will be fully mobilized and on the move in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

To follow the fight against crowded classrooms in Texas, visit "Keep the 22:1 Class Size Limit" and Texas AFT's Facebook campaign page. [Annette Licitra, Rob D'Amico/photo by Jody Horton]

January 26, 2011