Why Texas and Rick Perry are making Texas education even worse
By Amanda Hart
Illustrations by Tim Dorsey
August is here, and that means that the first day of school for the children of Texas, as well as many of us, is right around the corner. Normally this time of year is accompanied by a sense of excitement and optimism from students and teachers. But just like everything else in Texas, our legislators and their heartless bastard of a leader, Prick Perry, have even managed to take away the enthusiasm that many of us experienced as children as we prepared for that first day of classes. From over crowded classrooms to new nonsensical standardized tests this school year is shaping up to be one massive calamity.
Our school system has been fighting to stay afloat for many years now. Our legislators this past year, however, went all mob style on education and made sure they anchored a couple of cinder blocks to the ankles of the whole system before they dumped it overboard. The effects of cutting 5.4 billion dollars from the education budget is already being felt by our schools and the school year has not even begun. Texas is currently ranked 45th in the nation in regards to funding for our schools, and that was prior to the 5.4 billion dollars in cuts. Maybe this explains why we are also ranked 47th in SAT scores and 43rd in high school graduation rates. The budget cuts that took place have already lead to the loss of over 25,000 jobs including almost 11,000 teaching positions. And when it comes to eliminating teachers and classes, Art and Music classes are the first to begin disappearing. Schools are being forced to implement a charge for students who ride the bus, a fee that ranges between 200 -400 dollars per student per year. Many school districts have been forced to stop offering bus services altogether for students who live within a 2 mile radius of the school. Schools are also beginning to charge parents for students who participate in athletics or other after-school activities. According to Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers, our schools are receiving an adequate amount of money and, “how the money is spent is the bigger issue,” according to Perry. Which would almost be laughable if the following statistic from the National Education Association didn’t make me want to cry: The national average spent per student per year is $11,463. This school year, Texas public schools will spend $8,908 per student, a $538 decrease from the previous year.
Overcrowded classrooms are one of the major issues teachers and students are facing this coming school year. The loss of 11,000 teachers combined with the influx of an estimated 100,000 new students is a recipe for disaster. Just in grades K thru 4th there is a reported 8,479 classrooms that will exceed the 22 student cap per class. This is extremely alarming when you consider the jump from 2,238 overcrowded classrooms from the previous year. Our teachers are having a hard enough time adequately preparing a classroom of 22 students for success. For teachers, this means longer days and nights grading assignments and preparing lesson plans for more and more students. It is common knowledge that a life of teaching is not a well-funded one. We pay them peanuts and expect the world in return. We drop our children off to them on a daily basis and expect them to help us create well-educated, productive members of society. All the while at every turn making their jobs difficult by slashing funding and funneling more and more students into their classrooms.
Besides the under-funding and overcrowding, our teachers and administrations are also being faced with a new high-stakes mandatory standardized test, State of Texas Assesments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), that is set to replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills (TAKS) for all current students. As if the TAKS test was not already a drain on our students and resources, the new STAAR test requires a brand new testing structure with 12 end-of-course assessments. Students will now have to pass 15 standardized tests as opposed to the four that the TAKS test used to require for graduation. And as an added bonus, the new test will account for 15 percent of a student’s final grade which will have a direct impact on a students GPA and ultimately their admission into college. And if a student fails just one of the 15 exit exams, they will not be allowed to graduate until the test is passed. Standardized tests in the past did not have a time limit for students but just to add to an already stressful situation, students will now have only 4 hours to complete each exam. And the real kicker? Texas spent $400 million in taxpayers’ money to develop the new test. 9th grade students were given the new test right before summer this past school year and the results were disastrous. The passing rate for biology was 41%, algebra 39%, writing 34%, reading 46% , and 40% for world geography. As a result, all students who failed the test were required to attend summer school- a move that caused a sizeable fraction of funds to be spent by school districts that are already strapped for cash. Ultimately, the new test will disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged students resulting in an even higher amount of high school dropout rates. The STAAR exam is, for lack of a better term, one giant bowl of shit stew that is being force fed to our students.Texas legislators seem to have a hard on for standardized testing and as a result are depleting valuable classroom instruction time and needed resources. Creating a herd of test takers will not generate productive members of our society or prepare them for the real world. Theoretically, state tests should be used to identify areas that need improvement, not as a weapon to be wielded against our children and already burdened school system.
It is essential to our future as a community that we produce highly educated and well- round students capable of carrying us forward. But that will never happen if we keep allowing our legislators to hold them back. We need to come together and stand up with our educators and demand better for Texas children and families all across this state. For things to change we need new leaders in Austin that have our best interests at heart. We need to demand that our legislators make education a top priority or we are doomed to fail as a state. You can start by writing a letter in support of Texas teachers and students and mailing it directly to Prick Perry. I’ve conveniently placed his address at the end of this article in big bold letters so you can cut it out and laminate it for future use. Make that shit into a magnet for your fridge and buy some stamps, because there are a million things wrong with this state that need to be brought to the attention of the morons responsible for creating our current chaotic climate.
Mail the governor at:
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711