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Bipartisan Group of House Members Urge Textbook Funding

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Texas schoolchildren will be denied adequate textbooks and other instructional materials when schools open in the fall if the Texas Legislature does not provide additional funding for the millions of textbooks sitting in warehouses waiting to be shipped to state schools, according to a group of House members.

At a press conference today, Reps. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), Todd Baxter (R-Austin) and Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) called the textbook dilemma a crisis that will shortchange public school students as well as cause the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars publishers have invested to comply with Texas requests and mandates regarding textbooks.

Surrounded by displays and boxes of textbooks similar to those waiting to be shipped to Texas classrooms, Straus said there is an opportunity during the special session on public school finance and reform to address related issues - including "mountains" of textbooks students are expecting in the fall for which the state has not provided money to purchase. Straus showed photos of pallets of textbooks awaiting shipment. "They're not going anywhere," he said, noting the textbooks have been "ordered but still not purchased."

Baxter described his House district, with thousands of school children who need the textbooks in the classroom, and with numerous small businesses that produced a lot of the textbooks that are sitting in warehouses. "Getting students the textbooks they need should be a top priority," he said, noting it is time to get them "out of warehouses and into classrooms where students and teachers can use them every day."

Pointing to an outdated health textbook currently used in Texas schools, Gallego said the state must deal with rising obesity among its children and with health concerns that are plaguing the state's growing Hispanic community. The new health textbooks address health and diabetes awareness, he said. "We all have kids and we all want kids to learn."

Austin music teacher Debbie Tannert, chair of the Austin ISD Textbook Selection Committee, said in 2002 publishers began creating "wonderful materials" for textbooks in a variety of subjects that would comply with the needs of the state. She said much time was spent in looking over publishers' results. Current music textbooks are 10 years old, said Tannert, and new ones have a lot more diversity in their songs - including Asian music, etc. The technology in the old book series was written for old Macintosh computers and Windows 95, she said, and approval of funds by the legislature will allow for "fresh new things" for students in their textbooks.

"Quality standards-based instructional materials are critical to providing a meaningful classroom experience to students, and educators are expecting up-to-date materials when they open their doors next month," said Robert Floyd, executive director of the Texas Music Educators Association and chair of the Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education. "These materials were adopted and approved by the State Board of Education last year and the state has a constitutional obligation to fund them."

Straus said regardless of what action the legislature may take on issues facing Texas in other areas, all legislators should focus on getting these new textbooks into Texas classrooms.

Gallego pointed out that funding for textbooks was not zeroed out as a line item in the budget bill, but rather the legislature "just didn't appropriate enough money to pay for the number needed." He said he and his fellow House members favor supplementing the line item in the budget, "So we can buy all the textbooks that we need. It's a great investment for Texas and for kids."

The Alpine Democrat said the state has not appropriated enough funds for an adequate supply of current textbooks for several years. "We've been running behind and I think it's time we catch up."

The problem is that the textbooks are stacked up in warehouses and "committed to" but not purchased, said Straus, noting that Gov. Rick Perry "has made some very positive statements in relation to our position." Straus said Perry could use budget execution authority "to make this happen."

Regarding revenue to fund the textbook purchases, Gallego said there are some legislators who do not like the teacher incentive part of the proposed school reform bill, and that could free up some funding. "It's really a question of priorities," he said. "All that we're asking is that this be part of the negotiations."

"When the state tests students and demands educator accountability - but won't purchase the tools needed to educate the students - that's not reality," said Cliff Avery, executive director of the Textbook Coordinators' Association of Texas. "When the state tells kids to compete in a global economy, but won't buy them foreign language textbooks - that's not reality. When we worry about childhood obesity, but we won't buy health textbooks - that's not reality. When the state extols the virtues of high technology, but won't purchase software that will dramatically improve a child's learning, that's not reality."