We have just four weeks to go in this legislative session. However, with nearly $11.8 billion projected to be in the Rainy Day Fund, there is still time for the Legislature to make smart investments in our state’s future. That’s why, alongside many of my colleagues, I have stepped up the pressure to fully restore the $5.4 billion that was cut from our public schools last session.
It should come as no surprise that we are juggling several different priorities as a state. Water and transportation continue to be critical. However, our children and our public schools remain, and should remain, our number one priority.
According to a study conducted by the National Education Association that was released in February 2013, Texas has dropped to 49th in per pupil instructional (classroom) spending as a result of the $5.4 billion in public education cuts, leaving the state roughly $3,000 below the national average. In March of 2013, the Texas Education Agency released school district employment figures. Over the past year, more than 25,000 school district employees lost their jobs — 11,000 of them teachers. That is 25,000 families that lost a breadwinner and 11,000 classrooms without an instructor.
The situation faced in our classrooms is no less dire now that it was when we started this session, or when we were on the campaign trail. State legislators made a commitment to their constituents to get this right.
To date, the House has passed proposals that only restore 55 cents on the dollar from what was cut in 2011. Specifically, the House-passed budget restores $2.5 billion for public schools over the next biennium. As you may know, I could not support this version of the budget because it did not fully fund public schools. An additional $500 million was appropriated just last week, but even still, this leaves funding $2.4 billion short. That is just not good enough — not for our kids, their parents or our teachers.
Water is indeed critical and transportation absolutely needs to be addressed. But so do our kids and their future. I have not and will not waver in my belief that our top priority must be to restore funding for public education. There is no reason at all why we can’t make smart investments in our children, who are vital to our state’s future. With four weeks left, there is still time to get this right.