Parents focusing on impact of cuts
Members of Cy-Fair ISD's citizen-led Community Legislative Committee were among 200 Houston-area parents and business leaders who emerged from a legislative training session ready to engage others to help solve a state budget crisis expected to seriously impact funding for public education.
Bus trips to Austin, petition drives, e-mail and letter-writing campaigns are among strategies parents and business leaders from across the Houston area said they will use to convince lawmakers to preserve as much funding for schools as possible.
"Educating our kids is directly tied to a healthy democracy and it's directly tied to a healthy economy in ways nothing else is, and that's our message," Houston school district attorney David Thompson said at the Jan. 27 meeting, which was hosted by Spring Branch school district and which included attendance by members of Cy-Fair ISD's CLC.
"What we learned is our approach is right on track with what experts in the field are saying, and that approach is: use the rainy day fund," said Tom Jackson, who chairs Cy-Fair's citizen-led CLC.
Budgets released by both the House and Senate since the 82nd Texas Legislature convened Jan. 11 predict cuts in public education of up to $9.8 billion for the 2012-13 biennium. School district leaders in the Houston area now say the cuts could be closer to $5 billion or $6 billion by the end of the 140-day session.
At the least, the Cy-Fair district is projected to lose between $33 million and $60 million in state funding. Coming on the heels of spending reductions made in the district over the past few years, the proposed cuts would impact teachers and classrooms.
"We're already one of the most efficient districts in the state," Jackson said. "Can we continue to bear the brunt of these cuts?"
Based on their research, CLC members have devised a list of legislative priorities, which can viewed on the Government Relations department page on the district's website at www.cfisd.net.
CLC members are sharing the information with school and community groups. Like many parents who attended Spring Branch ISD's meeting, dubbed the Legislative Priority for the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature, they plan to contact local lawmakers.
Jackson invites Cy-Fair residents to register e-mail addresses on the site to receive updates.
"Letter-writing is nice, but to have an impact you need thousands of letters," Jackson said. "There's a premium on individual visits, particularly if you can show you represent a constituency."
Residents from Spring Branch, Houston and Spring school districts who attended the Jan. 27 event got similar advice from Bill King, an HISD consultant who shared practical tips for visiting the state Capitol.
"Don't underestimate the impact constituents can have on this, especially when you're talking to your own state representative or your own state senator," King said.
Budget cuts are inevitable, he said.
Aside from cuts in state aid, House Bill 1 also would eliminate $2 billion in grants and allotments, Thompson said. That includes money used to extend pre-kindergarten programs to a full day and to provide teacher incentives and tutoring for at-risk students, among other programs.
But HISD board member Greg Meyers encouraged the group to find common ground and have a larger impact as the debate moves forward.
"What a huge impact it would be for us to come together and collectively have a voice," Meyers said.
Local Advertising by PaperG