Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Assigning Blame for School Closures

Yesterday, I looked at a recent Dallas Independent School District (DISD) school board meeting and criticized the trustees for not all remaining present for a public hearing. Some stepped out during the hearing and eventually the whole board moved to a private room to finish their deliberations and vote on a plan to close 11 public schools in the DISD. Trustee Carla Ranger said her fellow trustees "walked out on their community."

I didn't criticize the DISD for those school closures, only for how they mishandled the public hearing. It's a shame that they did. DISD is between a rock and a hard place, but their behavior at the public hearing caused the public to overlook the state's share of responsibility for the mess our public school financing is in.

After the jump, placing blame.

In its 2011 session, the state legislature cut funding for public schools by $4 billion from the amount specified by the formula used to project future costs based on increasing enrollments. Every school district across the state is making painful cuts. Most have cut programs, frozen teacher salaries, reduced hiring, laid off administrative staff, and increased class sizes. DISD already cut $76 million and said it needed to cut more: it could close 11 schools or lay off 171 teachers. Premont ISD in south Texas decided to cut athletics. No more football. In Texas! You know you've cut to the bone when Texas taxpayers are ready to sacrifice football.

The state legislature not only failed to address the structural budget deficits forcing these cutbacks, it kicked the can down the road, ensuring even more pain in 2013. School districts across the state have given up on the state legislature, turning instead to the courts, asking them to rule that the legislature's handiwork is unconstitutional on grounds of either equity or adequacy. Meanwhile, those same legislators responsible for the current mess are back, trying to convince voters to send them back to Austin for more of the same. Stefani Carter (likely to represent Richardson once redistricting is settled - another fiasco produced by the last legislature) launched her re-election campaign by looking back on her performance in Austin, saying, "It was a successful session! But there is still more to do." God help our schoolchildren if Carter does any more. God help Texas.

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