Education would take a massive hit in early drafts of the next two-year state budget, as the state faces a revenue shortfall of at least $15 billion. Adhering to promises of no tax increases and no money from the Rainy Day Fund, the revenue was mainly made up with about $14 billion in cuts to state programs.
Proposed cuts so far include almost $5 billion to public education and do not pay for an estimated 160,000 new students who are expected to enroll in public schools over the next two years.
"Gutting education funding in a state that grows by over 85,000 students a year where nearly 60 percent of those children come from poverty is certainly detrimental to the future of this state," said John Folks, superintendent of San Antonio's Northside school district. "I simply say: Don't balance this budget on the backs of school children in Texas."
After a rally urging lawmakers to "make education a priority," the superintendents planned to meet individually with lawmakers, sharing with them thousands of letters from their communities repeating the message.
The superintendents said lawmakers should tap the state's Rainy Day Fund, which is expected to have a balance of over $9 billion, or find other revenue sources to avoid such dramatic cuts to schools.
About a third of the revenue shortfall was caused by lower-than-expected sales tax receipts during the recession. But most of it was created by the loss of one-time revenue used in the last budget to pay for recurring expenses. Along with some state savings, federal stimulus money was used to plug a hole that was created when the state overhauled the business tax structure and the school finance system in 2006. The new tax structure did not generate enough money to offset decreases in school property tax rates.
"It is totally irresponsible to be asking school districts to make these cuts when the Legislature themselves have created the problem, and today they have taken no action to fix it. To me this is what you call an emergency," Folks said, taking a jab at the items Gov. Rick Perry has declared emergency issues for the Legislature, including an effort to require Texans to present photo identification before they can vote.
"They must find and they must look for other sources of revenue and ways to generate revenue for our public schools."
A resolution asking legislators to make public education the highest priority in the state budget has been signed by 547 school districts, more than half of the districts in Texas.
The districts say the proposed reductions would mean crippling choices such as teacher layoffs and school closures.