Three months into the school year, lawmakers and parents are angry about the effects of the $5 billion cut from schools by the TexasLegislature.The cuts have resulted in fewer teachers and larger classes.
About 6,500 waivers were sent to the Texas Education Agency to exceed the 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio for kindergarten to fourth-grade, almost triple last year’s number, said state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, vice chairman of the public education committee.
Classes are even larger in the older grades, which aren’t subject to the cap.
“If you think the classrooms are overcrowded in an elementary, imagine 40 seventh-graders crammed into your room and your trying to get their attention. Middle school is where we figure out if they’re going to drop out,” said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. “What these teachers are telling me is that they have so many in class is that they teach towards the center. It means that the kids on the end that aren’t getting it aren’t getting the extra help.”
‘Enough is enough’
The news conference on the impact of cuts to public education was held at the Willow Street Pump Station, which is currently exhibiting the history of Houston’s schools.
“We held it here to ask ourselves if we are as committed to our future as (our ancestors) were,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who organized the event. “Parents and school teachers ought to be raising hell and saying that enough is enough.”
They were joined by state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and other officials to express their disdain with what they view as a misstep by the state government.
“There really were only three things that we had to deal with in this Legislature. Really, the governor needed to deal with windstorm insurance, redistricting and he needed to fund public education. Oops,” said Hochberg, playing off of Rick Perry’s recent debate gaff.
While the statement did find a few chuckles among the crowd of about 75, the issue is serious enough that Houston ISD, Fort Bend ISD Clear Creek ISD and many others plan to sue the Legislature to improve education funding.
History of litigation
Attorney David Thompson, who will be representing the districts, said that this is the seventh time in 30 years that litigation has been brought against the state over education funding.
Even though the suit will cost HISD $65,000 this year, Ellis supports the decision and hopes it provides a solution.
“Please courts, force us to do what our ancestors did 175 years ago but we don’t have the courage to do – adequately fund our public schools,” Ellis said.