Monday, March 7, 2011

How to contact legislators

To make it easier for our members who want to send an email to senators and representatives on the Senate Education Committee and the House Public Education Committee, here's a list of those people with links to their email forms. Unfortunately, members don't provide email addresses but have a form on their web pages to send them an email. Click on their name to fill out the form and send them a message. The Legislature needs to hear from school district leaders about how budget cuts are affecting them.

My previous blog post provides some talking points if you'd like to use them.

Senate Education

Chair: Florence Shapiro

Vice-Chair: Dan Patrick

John Carona

Wendy Davis

Mario Gallegos

Steve Ogden

Kel Seliger

Leticia Van de Putte

Royce West

House Public Education Committee

Chair: Rob Eissler

Vice-Chair: Scott Hochberg

Alma Allen

Jimmie Don Aycock

Harold Dutton Jr.

Ryan Guillen

Dan Huberty

Mark Shelton

Todd Smith

Mark Strama

Randy Weber

Talking points for lawmakers, the media and your community

It is crucial for superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents and all Texans who care about the future of the state to make sure their voices are heard in Austin – and timing is critical.

The current proposed budgets in the House and Senate call for draconian cuts to Texas public schools, cuts so deep that there’s no way to avoid a major impact on the way we deliver education. We need lawmakers to make education a priority, to minimize the impact on education and give school districts the flexibility to weather cuts.

Please contact your legislators as soon as possible. Here are some key points to make with them, emphasizing that school superintendents and local school boards need as many tools as possible to mitigate budget cuts:

•      Vote YES to using a portion of the state’s Rainy Day Fund for public education. Leadership and the Texas Legislature have already taken raising taxes off the table this session. Discussions about severe cuts to public education are ongoing and the proposed House budget would cut funding for public education by $9.8 billion and the proposed Senate budget would cut $9.3 billion.   Such massive cuts would result in a loss of funding of approximately $1,000 per student. Without raising new taxes, the only way the Texas Legislature could reduce the proposed cuts for public education is to rely on funding from the state's Rainy Day Fund. The Rainy Day Fund belongs to the state and it exists for emergencies. Public schools are in a state of emergency.

•      Support legislation to replace the 22:1 class size limit with a district wide average of 22:1 and provide that no class may exceed 25 students. With massive budget cuts looming and 85 percent of district’s budgets going to salaries, the 22:1 mandate in grades K-4 would mean districts would have no choice but to create much larger classes in higher grades. Flexibility on this mandate, while still maintaining a cap of no more than 25 students in those classes, would allow district leaders to spread the burden more equitably while still ensuring a manageable class size limit in those early grades.

•    Help districts avoid layoffs. Current state law prohibits school districts from decreasing the salary of full-time teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, and speech pathologists below the 2010-11 salary level. Repealing this provision would allow districts to lower salaries of existing employees, reducing personnel costs to minimize or avoid layoffs.

•    Support legislation to allow school districts to temporarily furlough employees. Under current law, an educator employed under a 10-month contract must provide 187 days of services.  School districts are required to provide 180 days of instruction for students. Allowing districts the ability to temporarily furlough employees for up to seven non-instructional days and reduce salaries accordingly would provide districts financial flexibility while keeping teachers employed and without reducing the number of days students attend school.

•    Support legislation to change the deadline of notification regarding renewal of term contracts. Current law requires districts to provide notice of intent to non-renew a teacher’s expiring contract 45-days prior to the last day of instruction. In order to meet the 45-day notification deadline, districts must send these notices out in mid-April. The 45-day nonrenewal notice deadline should be changed for several reasons: It is bad for students, as it occurs while teachers are administering the state tests; it is bad for teachers, because student test scores are not available in time to inform the district’s personnel decisions; and it makes efficient budgeting and planning impossible, because staffing plans must be developed before districts knows how much state funding they will receive. School districts need a permanent change to the notice deadline, making it at the end of the instructional year rather than mid-April to give district leaders the flexibility in the future to budget efficiently and, more importantly, to make sure students aren’t negatively impacted.

Talking points for media and/or the community: Explaining the budget shortfall

Explaining Texas’ school finance system and how we arrived at the budget crisis the state finds itself in today isn’t easy. Your community needs to understand that the state’s shortfall is due to a structural budget deficit, not only the economy, and certainly not because of money mismanagement at the district level. Here are some key points to make that case:

•    Because of changes the Legislature made to the school finance system in 2006, our district has been operating with essentially the same amount of per-pupil revenue for the past five years. Meanwhile, annual costs - including a state-mandated teacher pay raise - have continued to go up. Standards have continued to increase as well, which means districts are not only being asked to do more with less, but do it better.

•    The next two years bring even more challenges and districts need adequate funding to meet those challenges. (Here talk about your district's growing or declining enrollment and explain how the scenario affects your district's bottom line, such as hiring more personnel, building facilities for growing districts, the challenges of less funding for declining enrollment and decisions that have to be made of closing schools for districts with declining enrollment. Also talk about growing population of economically disadvantaged, LEP and special education students and how these groups require more personalized instruction.)

•    During the 2012-13 school year, we will begin administering end-of-course exams, which will be more rigorous than the exit-level TAKS. Despite the budget deficit, lawmakers have so far been adamant that there should be no delay in implementing the new system, even though they acknowledge the financial strain it will place on districts. (Be specific about what types of programs will need to be implemented to prepare students for EOC's and other costs associated with the new testing program.)

•    Because we have been in financial crisis since the Legislature froze funding levels in 2006, our district has already cut costs wherever possible. (Give specific examples of cost-cutting measures.)

•    During this past school year, we spent $__ per student, of which $__ went directly to instruction. Only __ percent of the district's budget was spent on district administration and __ percent was spent on campus administration. If our state funding is cut at the level that lawmakers are now talking about, we anticipate having to cut the following programs and services: (be as specific as you can.)

•    Failing to invest in today's schoolchildren is dangerous and ultimately unfair. Texas children need and deserve a quality education. If funding is cut for our schools, our students and the state's economy will pay the price.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Save Texas Schools expect thousands at march and rally

School superintendents have long seen the current budget crisis looming on the horizon and have been urging legislators to do something to repair the structural budget deficit that would ultimately lead to the budget shortfall we have today.

But with all the media attention now squarely focused on education and what draconian cuts will mean for local schools, teachers, parents and students across the state are taking notice and getting involved.

Perhaps the best example of the groundswell of support for public schools lately is Save Texas Schools. The group has its roots in Austin, where local parents concerned about potential school closures began organizing. But they soon took their message statewide and now have thousands of supporters from across Texas. As of Thursday afternoon, almost 3,300 people were following Save Texas Schools on Facebook.

On March 12, Save Texas Schools is holding a march and rally at the State Capitol and are expecting at least 3,000 people to attend.

Their core message runs parallel to TASA’s legislative priorities and is similar to TASA and TASB’s Make Education a Priority campaign focus. 

From the Save Texas Schools website:

What is Save Texas Schools?
Save Texas Schools is a nonpartisan statewide volunteer coalition of parents, students, educators, business leaders, concerned citizens, community groups and faith organizations. Our goal is to educate our state’s elected officials about the importance of maintaining funding for Texas public education – from pre-K through college – to the maximum degree possible, within the context of the current state budget crisis and beyond.

What Does Save Texas Schools Stand For?
Save Texas Schools calls on our state’s elected leaders to make education a top priority. Specifically, we ask them to take the following emergency measures immediately:
  • Use the $9.3 billion Texas “Rainy Day” Fund to support schools.
  • Sign the paperwork for $830 Million in federal aid for teachers.
  • Fix school funding laws to be fair to all districts and to our state’s growing student population.

The march will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 12, at 12th and Trinity, one block east of the Capitol. The rally will be from noon until 2 p.m. on the south steps of the Capitol.  According to the group’s website, a list of speakers and entertainment is in the works for the “historic, non-partisan, family-friendly event.”