When a NY Times article on state cuts to school districts in Texas opens with a high school kid trudging two miles through mud to get to school, well…we know what we’re in for:
School buses passed by 16-year-old Aubrey Sandifer as he walked home one recent afternoon in this rural town northeast of Austin.
If Democrats had initiated the cuts, we’d be hearing about the positives of the latest ‘anti-obesity’ campaign and how forty minutes of walking reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and laziness. Instead, the tires of the evil 1% Republicans are once again splashing mud on the hopes of the 99%.
Another question raised by this opening statement: are these trials and tribulations a case of budget crunching or inefficient planning by a bloated bureaucracy? Of all these school buses that ‘passed-by’ Mr. Sandifer, none could give poor Aubrey a ride? At least cut his walk in half?
This article blasts the reader with unanswered questions. In lieu of answers, it delivers impressions, such as the insinuation that Texas unduly burdens its poor citizenry with cruel and harsh austerity measures that border on the unconscionable.
Why is Texas being singled out, as opposed to the other 49 states, by a newspaper based out of New York City? The article provides little to no context in this regard. Surely, other states are feeling the budget crunch. California? New York? Illinois? $5.4 billion sounds like a big number. How does it stack up against cuts to other parts of the state budget? What percentage of the education budget was cut? Is there no moral compulsion to balance the budget and responsibly manage the state’s finances?
For Hutto and the 1,264 other public school districts in Texas, this has been the year of doing without. Texas lawmakers cut public education financing by roughly $5.4 billion to balance the state’s two-year budget during the last legislative session, with the cuts taking effect this school year and next.
We find out superintendents, when not indulged with unlimited funding, must be reduced to the evils of budget cutting that the 1% chief executives of corporations are forced to make:
Like chief executives of struggling corporations, superintendents have been cutting back on everything from paper to nurses and have had to become increasingly creative about generating revenue. They are selling advertising space on the sides of buses and on district Web sites, scaling back summer school, charging parents if their children take part in athletics or cheerleading and adding periods in the school day so fewer teachers can accommodate more students.
A litany of miseries follows as school superintendents are forced into the same budget realities that most American families face: cut down on luxuries, cut back wherever else you can, get the most out of what you have, and grab a second job if you have to. It’s no fun, but reality ain’t always a picnic.
“It’s almost like slow death,” said the superintendent, Douglas Killian, during a visit to Veterans’ Hill, where the classrooms are now used by adults as part of a higher education center run by Temple College and Texas State Technical College. “We’re being picked apart. It’s made a tremendous morale issue in the district. I’ve noticed that folks are a lot more on edge.”
Way down at the bottom of the article we’re provided with just enough of the Republican position to… make them look heartless:
Several lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature have played down the impact of the $5.4 billion in cuts on schools statewide. In an interview in February with The Dallas Morning News, Gov. Rick Perry said he saw no need for a special legislative session to restore some of the education funding that was eliminated last year and said the schools were receiving an adequate amount of money. “How that money’s spent is the bigger issue,” he told the newspaper.
This next quote begs the unanswered question: how many ‘unprecedented’ budget hikes led to the necessity of ‘unprecedented’ reductions?
But many public school advocates, parents and administrators said the reductions that districts had made — and were considering for the next school year — had reached an unprecedented level, even as enrollment and testing requirements have increased. Hundreds of districts have sued the state in four lawsuits, saying that the school finance system fails to adequately and equitably pay for public education in Texas.
We’re finally provided with a national context to all these draconian cuts:
From the previous school year to the current one, districts across Texas eliminated 25,286 positions through retirements, resignations and layoffs, including 10,717 teaching jobs, according to state data analyzed by Children at Risk, a nonprofit advocacy group in Houston. Texas public schools spend $8,908 per student, a decrease of $538 from the previous year and below the national average of $11,463, according to the National Education Association. California spent $9,710 and New York $15,592.
Here’s the important question. Why is New York almost twice as expensive as Texas, and what is the comparison in student performance? Whatever that answer, isn’t it highly relevant to this story on budget cuts? As is the current budget health of New York vs Texas? These statistics paint the intended picture: that Texas is a cheap state, skimping out on its students, with a Republican leadership indifferent to the pleas for help from the supposedly suffering. No one likes to see art and music get cut, or teachers get laid off, but what is the other option? Isn’t that an important side of the story?
Rather than a bleak tale worthy of John Steinbeck, couldn’t Texas have been elevated as an example to other cash-strapped states looking for ways to economize and streamline their education infrastructure? What government-funded entity has ever run with high-efficiency and low waste? Instead, the only message this article conveys is that Republicans are cold and heartless haters of education and children. For liberal readers of the NY Times, this isn’t news.