There’s a school district in Texas, so decimated by Gov. Rick Perry’s cut-to-the-bone-and-beyond state budget, that it recently decided to charge its students nearly $400 a year to ride the school bus.
And it’s not the only one struggling to stay afloat while Perry gladly hands out millions of dollars in tax breaks and state contracts to his wealthy campaign donors. Across the state, educators at all levels — from pre-K to college — are united in their message: This governor, a top 2012 GOP presidential candidate, is not a friend to public education.
First, consider the Texas state budget: This year, Perry cut $4 billion from K12 school districts and another $1.4 billion in discretionary grants, such as those that pay for full-day kindergarten. Across the board, every district must grapple with a 6 percent cut, while state colleges and universities face 9 percent cuts. Next year, some districts will face even deeper cuts.
“This is the worst education budget in his lifetime,” said Clay Robison, public affairs specialist for the Texas State Teachers Association. It’s the first, in more than 60 years, that fails to fully fund Texas’ school finance formulas, including anticipated enrollment growth.
Now, as the school year gets underway, students and educators will likely see the effects of these cuts. Expect more teacher layoffs and bigger class sizes, Robison warned. But don’t expect to see students thriving under those conditions —students in Texas already have been “struggling” under Perry, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” he told Bloomberg News. “I feel very, very badly for the children there.”
Next, consider the differences between what Perry says he stands for, and what he actually does. He says he’s for job creation and economic development, but at the same time, his budget cuts to higher education will make it very difficult for students to get what they need to be successful in a highly skilled, competitive work force. At least 29,000 low-income college students will lose their scholarships and financial-aid cutbacks will affect 14,000 more.
Thus far, the booming Texas economy has been built on low-wage jobs that don’t require college degrees, noted Steve Murdock, a Rice University sociologist. “That’s never been the key to a prosperous future, at least in any modern times,” he told The Washington Post.
While Perry says he wants to transform Austin, the home of the University of Texas, into the “next Silicon Valley,” it’s more likely to be the West’s next ghost town. This idea that professors at UT and Texas A&M should be “individual profit centers,” paid according to student evaluations, and ranked by the number of students that they can cram into lecture halls isn’t going to attract many faculty —or students—to those campuses or inspire rigorous scholarship.
Joked one professor on a Chronicle of Higher Education discussion board: “I’ve taught class with 450 students. I’ll give everyone A’s and have 100 percent retention. Send me my raise!”
Finally, he just doesn’t understand — or ignores — what it takes to make students successful. The groundwork is laid when children are young, which is why it’s so galling that Perry vetoed a bipartisan, pre-kindergarten bill that would have allowed more school districts to offer full-day, pre-kindergarten. And it depends on very basic things, like making sure kids are healthy. That’s an increasing challenge in Rick Perry’s Texas, where this year lawmakers cut $805 million from doctors serving Medicaid patients — even as the number of Texans who qualify for Medicaid has grown 80 percent since 2001.
Helping students and schools to be successful also means making a financial investment in students and teachers (not private school vouchers that divert money from the public school system.) But even as Perry cuts billions from education, he also has been happily awarding millions of dollars in state contracts to his campaign contributors, according to a recent story in the New York Times.
It’s also important to note that the state’s budget shortfall this year was, at least in part, of Perry’s own making. His 2006 school property tax cuts left an annual budget shortage in the state education budget that accounted for more than one-third of this year’s total revenue gap. That’s just simple math.
And a few other things to know about Rick Perry:
• Remember the right-wing clique that ravaged the state’s social studies curriculum? Demoting Thomas Jefferson and adding Phyllis Schafly? While TSTA president Rita Haecker called it a “national embarrassment” and an effort to “impose religious and political beliefs on the public school curriculum,” Perry merely said he wouldn’t “second guess” those decisions.
• Perry also told supporters at a campaign stop this month that Texas teachers teach creationism. (In truth, there is no such requirement in the state science curriculum.) “(Evolution) is a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it,” he said. “In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure which one is right.”
• More recently, he also claimed that “more and more” scientists are questioning global warming. But the truth is there is solid consensus in the scientific community about global warming, said The St. Petersburg Times, which “fact-checked” Perry’s claim.
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