Aid Cuts Have Texas Schools Scrambling
All across Texas, school superintendents are bracing for the largest cuts to public education since World War II, and the state is not alone. Schools across the country are in trouble as billions in emergency stimulus grants from the federal government have run out, and state and federal lawmakers have interpreted the victory of fiscal hawks in November's midterm elections to mean that tax increases are out of the question.
Nowhere has that political trend been more potent than in Texas, where Republicans who ran on a promise to never raise taxes not only retained every statewide office, but also added to their majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Gov. Rick Perry, easily re-elected in November, made it clear in his annual speech to lawmakers last week that he regarded raising revenue for schools as out of the question, saying Texas families "sent a pretty clear message with their November votes." He has also refused to consider using $9.4 billion in a reserve fund to bail out the schools.
"They want government to be even leaner and more efficient," Mr. Perry said, "and they want us to balance the budget without raising taxes on families and employers."
To balance the budget with cuts alone, the governor and Republican leaders in the Legislature have put forth bills that would reduce the state's public school budget by at least 13 percent — nearly $3.5 billion a year — and would provide no new money to schools for about 85,000 new students that arrive in Texas every year. School administrators predict that as many as 100,000 school employees would have to be laid off to absorb the cuts.
Not only are the proposed cuts to school aid draconian, but in addition the Legislature in 2006 put strict limits on how much districts can raise local property taxes. That means local school boards find themselves trapped amid rising enrollment, double-digit drops in state aid and frozen local taxes.