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January 21, 2011 - Session Watch

House budget means "Armageddon" for public education

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

Devastating.

That's the first word that comes to mind in describing what the House's proposed state budget would do to school districts across Senate District 19.

And it's not just public education that would take a painful hit — higher education, border security, prisons, environmental protection, and doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and other health care providers who receive Medicaid reimbursements would also suffer under the baseline spending plan unveiled by House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts in the second week of the legislative session.

While Pitts and others cautioned that it was just a starting point for the 2012-2013 budget — and the Senate's plan has yet to be unveiled — the document made is crystal clear that cuts alone will not be nearly enough to make up a budget deficit that ranges from $15 billion to $27 billion.

The proposed cuts for education not only threaten the state's future, they would strain the local economies of small towns across West Texas. From Bandera to Van Horn, Kermit to Eagle Pass Pecos to Presidio, and all the communities in between, local school districts provide jobs and generate other economic activity that spreads out like rings in a pond.

Yet statewide, according to an analysis by school finance expert Lynn Moak, up to 100,000 teachers and other education workers would lose their jobs under the House budget — a situation that Moak described to one newspaper as "Armageddon."

This budget also ignores projected growth of 170,000 students over the next two years. Under the drastic cuts provided in this bill, fewer teachers, school closures, and the elimination of merit pay and remedial programs mean that students will be in larger classes and will have to travel farther distances to get there; the quality of instruction will decline, and our children will be less prepared to compete in the workforce or in college classrooms.

And if your child does have dreams for a college degree, this budget has another harsh reality in store. Four community college districts would be abolished, including one in Odessa, and at least 60,000 fewer students would be able to get financial aid.

A higher education degree would simply be impossible for many children in SD 19, where the per capita income barely exceeds $12,000. For many, the chance for a better life would be out of reach.

This budget is also bad news if you have neighbors or family members who live in nursing homes or suffer with mental or physical disabilities, since Medicaid fees would be slashed by 10 percent. Child abuse prevention programs are on the chopping block as well.

This budget assumes there will be no new taxes or any use of the state's Rainy Day Fund, which holds more than $9 billion. At some point, those who advocate for cuts alone must answer a simple question: How bad does the budget situation have to get before sales tax reform, casino gambling and spending some of our reserves begin to make sense?

I think we are already beyond that point, because when you look at this budget and its implications for the future of Texas, that troubling word comes to mind: devastating.

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©2011 Carlos Uresti Campaign  •  A.M. Hernandez, Treasurer  •  P.O. Box 240431  •  San Antonio, Texas  •  78224
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