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Texans Protest School Cuts

DALLAS - Progressive Texans are furious with the State Legislature for cuts in public education, tax giveaways to the rich, and lying. Speakers at a May 23 protest rally by Dallas school employees explained the facts with emphasis.

School Board member Ron Price and officers of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate spoke to newspersons and about 200 teachers and support staff in front of the beautiful Townview Magnet School campus, just across the Trinity River from downtown Dallas, at the close of the school day.

They explained that public statements from the Republican-dominated legislature misled Texans about an ostensible $3,000 pay raise. In fact, hardly any school employees would see an increase under House Bill#2, the education finance bill under discussion in the capitol.

Cuts in their retirement program were an immediate problem for the school employees. Legislators were attempting to take another $1 billion out of the Teacher Retirement System. They proposed to change the "rule of 80" which allows school employees to qualify for retirement when their years of service and their age add together to 80. Legislators want a "rule of 90" and/or other restrictions on retirement age. Texas teachers cannot get Social Security due to earlier legislation, and their retirement fund investments lost heavily in the Enron debacle.

Legislators are proposing to modify the teachers' contracts so that school officials can get rid of anybody they don't like without standard disciplinary procedures.

Some of the bills and amendments would privatize 5% of Texas schools each year. Others would provide more funding for "charter" schools, which are private schools operating with state money but without the strict public school restrictions. Legislators, and most Texans, know about the sorry performance of these schools, but they continue to throw more millions of taxpayer money at them. At the same time of the Dallas rally, the Legislature was considering an amendment tagged on to an unrelated bill that would have provided state money for a private school voucher program. The amendment was barely beaten at approximately the same time that the Dallas rally footage was playing on the evening news!

The Legislature expects to follow the education cuts with House Bill#3, which would raise taxes on most Texans and provide for big property tax relief for the wealthiest 10%, according to AFT lobbyist Dwight Harris at the rally. Many Texas children are already doing without textbooks. "Money for textbooks, not for vouchers!" yelled the crowd.

The Texas Constitution says that the state must finance quality education. But the President of the Dallas AFT affiliate said that the state had shifted the burden more and more to local property taxes. While the state formerly paid 33% of Texas education expenses, they now pay 18%. "That's putting your money where your mouth isn't!" she told the infuriated school employees.

She contrasted the cuts to the schools with a separate bill, already passed, which gave the State Representatives and Senators a whopping increase in their own retirement plan. If they serve for three sessions over 6 years, they would qualify for a $6,000/month petition, while teachers who served 26 years would receive only $2,000, she explained. She brought the angry crowd to the only conclusion that any observant Texan could draw: "The legislature is being led by people who are out to destroy public education!"

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