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House Mexican-American Legislative Caucus Blasts HB 2

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

Saying that HB 2 "fails kids, fails teachers and fails the test of leadership," members of the House Mexican-American Legislative Caucus today said the legislation will provide no relief for the state's beleaguered public school system unless new money is provided for the state's public schools.

While members of the Caucus are excited about the possibility of being part of improving Texas schools, said Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine), what they have seen so far is not really an improvement.

"What we're really doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and not making any substantive changes or improvements in our education system," said Gallego.

He said Rep. Kent Grusendorf's (R-Arlington) HB 2 fails children because it is not equitable, noting that the irony is that the state's schoolchildren are treated equally on tests, standards and expectations, but not in funding. Gallego called HB 2 "90 Percent Left Behind," a play on words relating to the "No Child Left Behind" education act.

He explained that the new money promised in the legislation is approximately 3-4 percent for most of the poor school districts, while districts such as Highland Park get a 52 percent increase. "Where is the equity in this bill?" he asked, when one district gets a 52 percent increase and 90 percent of the others get from 3-8 percent. He said equity will never be achieved as long as the gap between wealthy and poor school districts keeps increasing.

Gallego pointed to a recent state-financed equity study commissioned to determine what the state's constitutional duty amounts to for providing an "adequate" education in the public schools. He said that study showed each low-income child would have to be funded at a rate of $1,960. The funding for each of those children if HB 2 passes, he said will be only $665. "Even with respect to the state's own adequacy study, the bill simply doesn't get the job done."

The bill also fails the state's public schoolteachers, said Rep. Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg). He cited figures showing that teacher pay is $6,252 below the national average, and said the state "broke a promise" to teachers when it cut their health insurance stipend from $1,000 to $500. Pena said studies show that half of all new teachers in Texas public schools leave their jobs within five years for better paying positions and said the State Board of Education notes that 20 percent of Texas teachers are assigned to teach in fields for which they lack subject matter training. "Better pay means better teachers our kids deserve," he said.

Melissa Noriega, serving in her husband's House district while he is in the military in Afghanistan, said incentives and merit pay for teachers are not fair because teachers do not teach children from the same backgrounds. "It's not sufficient to demand the same quality from children and their test scores and your pay be tied to that," she said, noting socio-economic conditions play a part in a child's ability to learn.

Rep. Pat Haggerty (D-El Paso) called the numbers in HB 2 "scary." He explained that while some are saying the bill will put new money into the public school system, all the bill does is restore funding for programs that were cut during the previous legislature. He said when it's all added up, the "new" money leaves the state's public school system "$398 million short of where we were two years ago," adding, "If there is no new money, there is no equality."

Saying the buzzword relating to education of late is "accountability," Gallegos said where accountability is needed is in the legislature. He said commitments have been made with respect to insurance, to teachers and to students and those commitments "have not been met."

Gallego said the Caucus has not yet taken a position on a means for funding the public schools. He said they first will have to see how the funds are used and what guarantees there will be that previous cuts are restored. "People don't mind buying something if they know they're getting their money's worth," he said. "Tell us what we're buying."

The Caucus chair said he is not optimistic for the schoolchildren of the state if HB 2 as currently written is passed. He said it is like playing football and the quarterback is sacked 10 yard behind the line of scrimmage. On the next play, if the team gains 10 yards, it is not a first down. "They tell us HB 2 is a first down," he said. "We want a first down. We want to help make a first down. But the way this is working, this isn't a first down."

Gallego said members of the Caucus have made their concerns known to bill author Grusendorf. Because there have been no changes to the provisions of the bill, he said, "I'd say at this point there has been no response."