Are we really still debating this?
Once again, the message that school districts didn't lose out this legislative session after all is being emphasized by some lawmakers.
At a Texas Tribune event Thursday morning, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is also running for the U.S. Senate, explained to the Tribune's Evan Smith why he thinks it's inaccurate to say the Legislature cut $4 billion from public education.
"We changed the school finance law," Dewhurst said. "And under the old law we were expected to increase our funding for public education by $8 billion. We increased our funding for public education by almost $4 billion. Only in government if you expect $8 billion increase and get $4 billion is that a cut."
Not to quibble, but first of all the Legislature cut public education by closer to $5.4 billion - slashing $4 billion from the Foundation School Program and another $1.4 billion in education grants that funded critical programs.
But back to the main point: Why can't we agree on whether education funding was cut or not? If you're an administrator that had to balance your district's budget this year, you know the difference between the reality and the spin.
Yes, the overall amount budgeted for the 2012-13 biennium for public education is slightly more than the previous two years. From $49.5 billion in 2010-11 to $49.6 billion, according to numbers from the Texas Education Agency. But that increase is nowhere near enough to serve the additional 170,000 students that will show up in Texas schools over the next two years at the same level of programs and services Texas students received last year.
When looking at per-student funding, the budget falls $4 billion short of funding individual students at the same level as 2010-11. For more specifics on the numbers, check out my post from this summer: No matter how you slice it, schools are losing funding.
Meanwhile, while some are denying that schools have been shortchanged, Texas AFT released the results of a survey Thursday that illustrate how budget cuts are affecting students and teachers.
About 92 percent of respondents said they've experienced layoffs in their districts, including teaching positions and teacher assistants. Nearly 80 percent reported cuts to programs that serve students, including pre-kindergarten, special education, art, music and tutorials. Eighty-seven percent said class sizes increased in their districts this year.
Survey comments included:
"Classrooms are maxed out. Students are over-tested and frustrated, leading to behavior problems and causing even more loss of learning. The push towards inclusion (of special education students) with insufficient staff is causing loss of learning and in some instances safety issues. Teachers are being overworked, leading to lower performance."
"Supply budgets have been drastically cut. This impacts the learning environment, because we lack basic supplies for students. Teachers have to utilize their own funds for supplies or do without."
"The morale is lower than I have ever seen it. Most teachers are questioning their calling and looking for something else."
"This is the first year, out of 11, that I regret teaching. I dread coming to work."
More than 3,500 teachers, school employees and parents responded to the survey, according to Texas AFT. The organization plans to do a follow-up survey in the spring.
Linda Bridges, president of Texas AFT, said the survey confirms the major impact budget cuts are having on schools.
"Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other state leaders are spinning a tale of balancing the state budget while maintaining adequate funding for public education; the real truth about the severe harm of these cuts is portrayed in the stories we've now heard from teachers across the state," she said.
School leaders have to make sure their communities know what really happened: Texas lawmakers balanced the state's budget on the backs of schoolchildren. No, the cuts weren't as bad as we feared they might be, but they're still devastating and we can't afford them.