Back to the Capitol Saturday to ‘Save Texas Schools’

Thousands of teachers, parents and advocates will rally to make school funding a campaign issue.
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SaveTexasSchoolsRally2011_AllenWeeksThis time last year, more than 10,000 people rallied outside the Capitol entreating lawmakers to spare the state’s education system from the harsh budget cuts some had proposed—to Save Texas Schools.

And though the Legislature passed a budget stripping billions from public education, the rally set the tone for months of activism from teachers, students and parents asking for a stronger, fairer system of paying for schools, and for politicians to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to soften the blow to school budgets.

It was also, as Abby Rapoport mentioned at the time, an opportunity to enjoy apple slices, peanut butter crackers and a “positive hip-hop” performance with school leaders from across the state.

Saturday at noon, they’ll do it again. After a long bus ride into Austin, and a short march to the Capitol, school advocates from across the state will gather once again to urge lawmakers not to cut school spending any further—good timing, too, just days after a coalition of conservative groups made their case to keep on cuttin’ in 2013.

The lineup of speakers includes a handful of Democratic legislators, Northside ISD super John Folks, the Texas Association of School Boards’ 2011 Superintendent of the Year (and an Observer Tyrant’s Foe in November), plus Perrin-Whitt CISD superintendent John Kuhn—the man who fired up the crowd last year with this pledge to those who would use poor test scores to justify cutting public education: “I will march headlong into the teeth of your horrific blame machine and I will teach these kids.”

Allen Weeks, the “bookish former track coach” who leads Save Texas Schools (and got the Tyrant’s Foe treatment in May), took a few minutes this morning to chat about what’s changed for the group in a year, and what’s in store Saturday.

This year’s definitely about getting people to vote. Unless we’ve got legislators that strongly support public education, it’s going to be difficult to get anything changed. If anything, the 2013 budget climate if going to be, perhaps, even worse. We really have to get people in there that will fight strongly for public education if we’re going to see funding come back.

We’re nonpartisan, and we kinda keep more general—get out there and be involved in voting—but we’re definitely pointing people to whatever resources are out there to make sure people are informed about lawmakers’ records, more than “I support public schools.”

There’s been a strong backlash against high-stakes testing in STAAR’s first year—how much does all that figure into your message?

That’s gonna be a big part of Saturday—it really does go hand in hand with funding. We’ve seen lots of parents and students really, really upset.

This year they’ll spend an average of 28 to 40 days testing at the average school. Some of our schools are going to see more than 50 days—that’s more than a quarter of the school year that are testing. That’s just unacceptable.

Why are some schools spending so many more days on testing?

It really divides up, in some ways, between rich and poor schools. But schools that tend to always pass, there’s a lot less re-testing, where everybody passes the test. The schools that are more at risk have a lot more benchmark testing, various middle-of-the-year testing, and those schools tend to also be the places where the state does field testing.

It’s going to be interesting to have this rally so soon after some conservative groups got together and pushed to cut spending even more.

It’s great timing that they came out with that this week. It really shows that what they’re about is not just efficiency in public schools, what they’re really about is an attack on public education. I’m not sure if there’s a limit to how deep they would like to see these cuts go.

They’re out on the edge. What we’re trying to find is the Republican and Democratic public officials who are in the reasonable middle. Texas has been wrestling with it for a long time, and it’s going to take good reasonable conversations, not people who say, “Cut, cut.”

Michael Quinn Sullivan at Empower Texans has said 50 percent of the education dollar doesn’t go to the classroom. Well, that other 50 cents includes school lunches, keeping the lights on school buses, libraries, all the extra functions. That’s the fat they want to trim. I guess they want to starve the kids, have them walk to school, have no music, no sports. That’s their vision for education. It’s just not serious proposals.

Saturday, we’re going to have thousands of people there who want to have serious conversations on how to have fair and adequate funding for schools. Texas is just not doing it, and we’re a resource-rich state.

 

Allen Weeks photo from 2011 Save Texas Schools rally by Daniel Setiawan.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.