As stated in a recent Williamson County Democratic Party press release:
Democrats understand that to protect our democracy and empower our children for the future we must have a well educated citizenry. A good education truly is the best investment in the future we can make. Democrats will not stand idly by while Republicans demonize teachers. Everyone knows that teachers work long hours for modest pay, we should be working with them to prepare students, our children, for life and future success.
Public education has long been on the Republican Party’s wish list of things to cut . In Texas, the structural deficit created by Governor Rick Perry’s property tax scheme set the stage for this attack on public education. Texas Monthly senior political editor Paul Burka said, “Our state leaders have known about this since 2006 when they paid no heed to the comptroller’s fiscal note.” 
Experts are now saying that the current GOP budget proposals will damage public education in Texas so much that, “by 2040 three out of every 10 Texas workers will not have a high school diploma.” Steve Murdock, U.S. Census Bureau director for the in the Bush administration agrees, “We are lagging now and to fail to educate this population is a formula for long-term disaster for Texas…. The thing that is most important for us to recognize is that what we do today with these young people will determine the future for all of us.”
Here in Williamson County there will be some truly devastating cuts    which will not only cost jobs, but will increase teacher/student ratios, reduce educational resources, and jeopardize the over all quality of our children’s education.
“Democrats in Williamson County emphatically support teachers,” said Williamson County Democratic Party Chair Brian Hamon. “Our future is in their hands. Parents understand that professional educators directly impact our children’s prosperity. All taxpayers in communities near good schools enjoy higher property values and access to better jobs. When we invest in education, everyone benefits.”
The Hill Country News has an article on last weekend’s eduation round table hosted by the West Williamson County Democrats, Wilco leaders discuss budget cut impacts in our schools.
The education forum was hosted by the West Williamson County Democrats and featured Diana Maldonado, former state representative for District 52 and former president of the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees; Will Streit, president of Leander ISD Board of Trustees; Larry Yawn, who was former Gov. Mark White’s education director and former president of the Texas State Teachers Association; and Jerry Don Landers, retired elementary school principal of Spicewood Springs Elementary School. While the panelists and attendees had specific concerns to bring to the table and didn’t all share the same political ideology, they all participated in the forum first and foremost to speak for the students, who will be the most affected by budget cuts, they said.
Maldonado kicked off the forum by reporting Texas lawmakers are expected to cut $10 billion in school funding to balance an estimated $27 billion budget shortfall. Ever since hearing of the potential drastic cuts, Texas school districts have been discussing and making difficult decisions about how to cut from their district budgets with the least possible detriment to students, she said.
Round Rock ISD is preparing to cut $60 million from its $345 million 2011-12 budget while Hutto ISD board members decided to close Veterans Hills Elementary School as part of a plan to cut more than $4 million from the district’s budget. Leander ISD has delayed the opening of its newest elementary and middle school until fall 2012 to save the district about $1.26 million from its budget. Georgetown ISD officials recently decided to cut 142 positions — 61 teachers, 11 administrators and 70 non-teachers — by the end of the school year to save the district an estimated $6.5 million in the upcoming school year.
As schools close and teachers are given the pink slip, classes will inevitably become overcrowded, which will affect the quality of education for children, Maldonado continued.
Small class sizes give students and their parents a sense of “family” within the school district, she explained. That sense of familiarity will be lost if classes and schools become overcrowded.
Representatives from throughout the county’s school districts are already sharing their concerns and ideas with legislators, but even more powerful than the words of school officials are the words of parents, she and the other panelists agreed.
“That’s what it’s going to take for legislators to see the impact these budget cuts will have,” she said.
Yawn said the idea of overcrowded classes is especially difficult for him to imagine. While working as Mark White’s education director, White played a role in getting House Bill 72 passed which advocated appropriate class sizes, provided a pay raise for teachers, revamped the system of public school finance to funnel more money to property-poor school districts, and took many other steps aimed at improving the academic achievement of students.
“It has withstood every legislative session since 1985,” Yawn explained. The proposed cuts could affect about 1.3 million retired educators, he explained. That means one in every 20 Texans is enrolled in the Texas Teacher Retirement System. “Approximately 80 percent of these former educators were prevented from participating in Social Security so the state program that they paid into throughout their careers is their only source of retirement income,” Karen Kaye Carter, spokeswoman for the West Williamson County Democrats, chimed in.
“It was during the [Great Depression of the 1920s] that the Texas Legislature established a retirement fund for teachers, so why is it that now we can’t afford it?” Yawn asked rhetorically.
Along the same lines, Landers expressed his main concern.
“Are they trying to get rid of the public school all together?” he asked rhetorically. “Less and less money causes more and more problems.”
Landers first entered the education scene as a kindergarten teacher before the current class-size regulations were in place. He said he noticed the improved quality of education and attention paid to each student when class size regulations were enforced. He couldn’t imagine teachers having to learn to monitor and teach significantly larger classes today amid so many other changes.
Streit shared the school board perspective at the forum.
“Usually we focus on education; this year it’s been all about the budget,” Streit said in regards to the board’s meeting topics. Streit said Leander ISD may have to cut $19 million to 29 million from its $230 million budget for the upcoming school year. However, the board could be expected to cut as much as $37 million to $61 million from its budget. The exact number is unknown right now but the district is discussing budget cuts with the community and its staff and expects to make decisions by April 7, which is when teachers must be notified of whether or not their contracts will continue into the 2011-12 school year.
It’s good to see there a some people showing leadership on the funding crisis facing Williamson County school districts.
Be sure to come out a support education in Texas a the Save Texas Schools Rally on Saturday at the Capitol.
DATE: Saturday, March 12, 2011
March: 11:00 a.m. starting from 12th & Trinity (1 block east of the Capitol grounds)
Rally: Noon – 2:00 p.m. at the Texas State Capitol on the South Steps, Congress Ave. & 11th St.
AGENDA: A number of prominent, inspiring speakers and student groups will speak at the rally, including:
- Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio
- Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Dallas ISD Superintendent
- Bobby Rigues, Aledo ISD School Board
- John Kuhn, Supt. of Perrin-Whitt ISD in North Texas (and author of the Alamo-style letter to Gov. Perry)
- Dalton Sherman, a sixth grader from Dallas, whose inspirational speeches on education have been featured nationally
- Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business
- The Cipher, a student-led Hip Hop group focused on building positive youth
- Clifton J. Ozen Magnet School Choir from Beaumont, Texas
- Reagan High School All-Star Band from Austin, Texas will lead the STS March.
- And more!