More than 10,000 parents, teachers, students and education advocates from all over Texas filled the Capitol South lawn Saturday for the third annual Save Texas Schools rally, urging lawmakers to scale back standardized testing and spend more state money on public schools.
Rally-goers began by marching seven blocks up Congress Avenue to the Capitol, carrying signs like, “WTF? Where is the Funding,” “Dumbledore would not give us the STAAR test,” and “¡Salvemos a Las Escuelas de Texas!” (“Save Texas Schools!”).
American GI Forum spokesperson Placido Salazar began off the rally before a cheering crowd, asking for lawmakers to restore the $5.4
billion they cut from school spending in 2011. He called for Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) to simply “stop your little shenanigans.”
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) chastised his fellow lawmakers from the podium: “We know Texas can do better. Texas has done better. And Texas children and schools deserve better than they’re getting from this Legislature,” he said. “The Legislature is failing our children.”
We ask that children do their chores, get good grades, go to school and become upright citizens, he said. “It’s time to demand as much from this legislature as we demand from a child.”
Earlier Saturday morning, a group of about 50 people rallied on the north side of the Capitol for school choice. Speaking to the Save Texas Schools rally, though, Texas Association of Manufacturers’ Workforce Committee Chairman Joe Arnold said he wanted to students to get a different kind of choice: freedom from the state’s “four-by-four” graduation plan that gives students flexibility. “It’s all about choice—kids studying what they want to study,” he said.
“$1.2 billion will be shipped to Pearson to cover the costs of the STAAR test,” he said. “We have increased the costs and the consequences at a time that we have cut funding.”
Advocate, professor, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch flew from New York to support her home state’s public school system. While school reformers complain about a crisis of failing schools, Ravitch told the crowd that U.S. graduation rates are the highest they have ever been and dropout rates are at an all-time low. “But we have a crisis,” she said: privatization, standardized testing, child poverty, vouchers, and online schools. She likened standardized testing to vampires and online charters to zombies.
“Texas is the place where the testing madness started,” Ravitch said. “And Texas is the place where the vampire gets garlic in its face and a mirror waved and a stake in its heart.”
Allen Weeks, the rally’s organizer and director of Austin Voices for Education and Youth, told the Observer after the rally that what comes next is even more important than Saturday’s show of strength: lobbying lawmakers with office visits, phone calls and petition cards his group handed out during the rally.
Weeks said he wants legislators to know that it is vital to restore the public education cuts from last session.
“It just makes sense that if they took [$5.4 billion]… that you would put that back just to get us at a baseline,” he said. “We need to go back up at what was really a barely adequate level before the cuts. Even then it was not good.”
And even with so much support among lawmakers for scaling back testing, Weeks said school advocates can’t rest until the session is over.
“All it takes is an amendment in a special session to just derail some good work,” he said. “We have to be vigilant until the very last minute on testing reform.”
Check out our slideshow for more photos from the rally.