It appears the widening call from parents, teachers, and Democratic lawmakers for a special session to mend the beating public education took in the 82nd Legislature will go unanswered.
Among others, the Texas State Teachers Association has been pushing for a special session to tackle public school finance, in light of the $5.4 billion the Lege cut from K-12 education last year. While reduced funding this school year has already hammered districts across the state, the association says, there's time, and cash on hand, to prevent schools from facing the over $2 billion cut from baseline funding budgeted for next school year.
Meanwhile the state's budget planners announced this week Texas' fat Rainy Day Fund should jump from a current $6.1 billion to $7.3 billion by the end of the fiscal year. That leaves the TSTA and others continuing to wonder why the state's sitting on that mountain of cash while districts suffer. Said TSTA president Rita Haecker this week in a prepared statement: “This is not a partisan issue. Most Texans believe it is senseless to leave more than $7 billion of taxpayers' money in the bank while their children's schools continue to suffer cuts.”
With the Legislative Budget Board telling us the state's current budget is still $4.1 billion short of covering Medicaid and other needed program expenses, there are surely others who would love to see some of that Rainy Day cash flow.
Don't hold your breath for Gov. Rick Perry to call lawmakers back to Austin early to fix the mess. Sitting down earlier this week to reacquaint himself with the Texas press corps for the first time since his bust of a presidential bid, Perry flatly ruled out the possibility of a special session to tackle school finance. Add to that House Appropriations Chariman Jim Pitts' read that there's no appetite “to go back in and undo what we did in the session.”
Maybe not among GOP lawmakers. But by TSTA's estimates, at least 32,000 Texas public school employees, including 12,000 teachers, have already lost jobs. More than 8,200 elementary school class rooms have already busted the state's standard for teacher-pupil ratio – a record number. Could Perry and co. eventually discover an appetite for a special session as tales of cash-strapped districts continue to make headlines? In case they're looking, here's another recent one: South San Independent School District trustees last night agreed to cut at least 61 teaching positions and charge more for summer school to cover a $5 million shortfall caused by state cuts.