I don’t mean you — the people who read this blog or the other stuff I strew across cyberspace. I’m a fairly high-information kinda guy, a little on the wonky side, and I suspect most of you are too.
No, I’m talking about the smart, involved folks right here in Milam County who are active in their churches and civic organizations, who take pride in their schools and their small-town Christian values but who either can’t be bothered, or who don’t seem to care about the train wreck that is the budget our state officials are contemplating.
Here’s just one example: we’re asking the schools in this state to cut about $10 billion out of their budgets over the next two years. To do this, schools are going to have to close campuses, cut vital programs, cram more little kids into fewer classrooms and lay off teachers on a massive scale. Some estimate that Texas schools will have to lay off 100,000 teachers by this time next year in order to get by.
We don’t know how many local jobs could be lost — some teachers I know are worried and local school administrators are being cagey — but we know that Austin is looking at 1,000 out of work teachers and Dallas ISD has talked about laying off 4,000 employees.
If nothing else, making sure that our kids get a high quality education is an economic development issue. If it’s not, it ought to be. It used to be. It’s to this state’s best economic interests that Texas have a competitive, well-educated workforce it can be proud of. Instead, we lead the nation in the percentage of adults without a high school diploma or GED, just like we lead the nation in the percentage of children and adults living in poverty. And they want to cut money for public education. Fer cryin’ out loud, what’s up with that?
Never mind the impact this will most certainly have on our unemployment rate.
But have you heard any of the pro-jobs, pro-business, pro-small town values Milam County Tea Party Republicans express any dismay over what the budget could do to public schools and small communities in Texas? No. If they’ve said anything, they’ve repeated favored Tea Party talking points like:
- schools are bloated and can get by on less
- administrators and coaches are being paid too much
- teachers are being paid too much
- I learned readin’ ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmatic in a drafty old barn … it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for kids today.
- if we didn’t have to educate all those children of all those illegals, we wouldn’t have a problem.
- if they are unfortunate enough to be on public assistance then they’re lazy good-fer-nuthins and deserve what they get.
Friends, it’s not as if we’re already doing a great job with our public schools … Texas ranks at or near the bottom in virtually every national educational stat you care to bring up, as well as just about every ranking for delivery of social services. (Athletics are a different story, of course, but let’s not muddy the waters.) BTW: Gail Collins published an excellent piece about this in the New York Times Thursday and I’ve referenced it below.
We can trim all the bloated administration and athletic salaries there are, cut the fat to the bone or beyond and refuse to school children of suspected undocumented families (which we pretty much already do, contrary to Tea Party opinion) but it won’t cut anywhere near enough money to account for the shortfall because the shortfall has nothing to do with this.
The shortfall exists because we’ve let the tax-cutting right-wingers convince us that our tax burden is too great (when, in reality, it is among the lightest in the nation and, nationally, as light as it’s been since 1950) so that they could feed us a diet of tax cuts and empty promises instead of effective government, an even barely adequate level of social services and a competent, competitive public school system.
And, we can debate the root causes of illegal immigration and undocumented workers, and the problems they can bring to a society, but that’s not really a budgetary problem either. Reducing illegal immigration won’t solve this crisis, or even help it very much. Tea Party Republicans seem determined to ignore facts that fly in the face of their beliefs but, a study by the Texas Comptroller shows that undocumented workers contribute nearly a half-billion dollars more to Texas’ economy each year than they and their families use in terms of social services.
I don’t really have an answer to the budget problem but let’s at least have an honest debate about it. It’s the debate we should have had in 2006 when our state’s politicians ran on a platform of cutting property taxes but lacked the moral courage to search for and enact real solutions to the problem of how to pay for a quality public education for our children. Well, a solution that didn’t involve shell games or smoke and mirrors, but still satisfied the state Constitution.
But the only note of dismay I’ve heard from anyone in Milam County about the state of the budget — aside from horrified Democrats — is from County Judge David Barkemeyer who, in one recent newspaper column, pouted about how expensive indigent legal defense could be, and that, if looked at a certain way, he supposed it could be considered an unfunded state mandate. In a another column, he vowed to keep state government off the backs of Milam County residents. Well, whoop.
It’s just a train wreck. No big deal, nothing to see here. Move along. These are not the ‘droids you’re looking for. Move along, I say … but, show me your papers first!
- Undocumented Immigrants In Texas (Window on State Government)
- Mrs. Bush, Abstinence and Texas (nytimes.com)
- Texas on the Brink (texaslsg.org)
- Texas GOP Proposes Witchhunt of Undocumented K-12 Students (immigration.change.org)