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RAISING HELL & RAISING FUNDS Dear ReaderAll year long our editors and reporters are busy raising hell against the powers that be. Now it’s time to ask for your support. It takes REAL MONEY to keep a free press alive. Please respond as generously as you can to the fundraising appeal we have mailed to you YOU CAN MAKE YOUR TAX-DEDUCTIBLE PLEDGE BY PHONE AT 800-939-6620 OR DONATE ONLINE AT Thank you for your courage and support. Texas Observer 307 W. 7th Street Austin TX 78781 outside the state’s standardized testing systemout of consideration. It could also push aside students who don’t fall within the testing system. Some special education students are exempt from the TAKS, taking an exam at a lower grade level, or an alternative exam that is not averaged into their schools’ accountability ratings. Special education advocates are wary that the adequacy approach could divert funds from these kids. “In tight times, the funds get spent on those students that you get held responsible for,” Kay Lambert of Advocacy, Inc. told the Joint Committee. “The money is going to go to the kids who are held accountable?’ Another piece of creative bookkeeping would readjust the amounts the state spends on select groups, like special education, bilingual, and economically disadvantaged students. The state’s Weighted Average Daily Attendance tional share of money for each child who is more expensive to educate. In the name of “simplification,” some legislators have suggested changes to the WADA system. One of the most popular proposals would collapse the weights for bilingual and economically disadvantaged studentsassigning a single weight for both groups. Aside from the rather startling implication that all poor kids come from somewhere else, this would be a serious funding cut to urban districts like Houston and Dallas, which educate both poor Anglos and middleclass bilingual kids. If the Legislature can’t muster the political will to raise new money, this kind of fancy number crunching will make casualties of hundreds of thousands of Texas children. The poor, minorities, and the learning disabled may feel the pinch first, but in the end nearly all will suffer, as the number of students grows and the money dwindles. “You will have the very finest schools set aside for a few,” says Wayne Pierce of the Equity Center, an advocacy group for property-poor school districts. “The rest won’t be able to compete.” Gutting the schools will cost all of us eventually. Corporate boosters and fiscal conservatives threaten that taxes will harm the “business climate” of the state; they ignore the reality that a populace of the uneducated and unemployable does not a healthy make. Here’s a grim statistic for you: If current trends continue, state demographer Steve Murdoch projects that the average family income will decline. By 2020 nearly one million Texas families, or about 13 percent, will live in poverty. Sooner or later, legislators will have to decide between their school districts, their property owners, and their friends in the business community. And if the Governor calls a special session this spring, it will be a very public decision indeed. It’s not surprising elected officials do a duck-and-shuffle every time the subject of how to pay for the schools hits the table. Surely, some legislators must be thinking in their heart of hearts, if they ignore the schools long enough, they will just go away. Emily Pyle is a freelance writer based in Austin. Support for this article was provided by the Observer’s Maury Maverick Jr. Fund for Cantankerous Journalism. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/19/03