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Teachers Track Education Funding Cuts

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Dallas, TX – A survey by one teachers group is providing a look at how state budget cuts may be affecting Texas school districts. KERA's Shelley Kofler says the survey comes as lawsuits challenging school funding take shape.

The online survey from the Texas American Federation of Teachers isn't scientific, but it's a glimpse into what has happened in schools since the state legislature reduced their funding by more than four billion dollars.

The nearly 3,500 school employees who responded represent about a third of the state's districts.

Nearly all said their districts have cut jobs with 85 percent saying teachers were among those laid off. More than three quarters responding said their districts have also cut student programs. Tutoring, electives and pre-kindergarten were among programs most often slashed.

Most said class sizes are now larger and Linda Bridges, president of the state teachers' group, says staff morale is low.

Bridges: Most of the teachers are exhausted and have been forced to cut back on the assignments they grade. Another one said there is virtually no inclusion support for special education students in classrooms due to the elimination of special education teachers.

Bridges warned the school funding challenges will only get worse next year. The one-year, federal education jobs money will be gone and next year districts will have about eight percent less state funding than this year.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus responded to the survey during a stop in Richardson. He said public education was the top priority for legislators but the state had to address a huge deficit.

Straus: We could not keep up with growth in population under the older formulas that were in existence before we went into session. We tried to provide flexibility so districts could implement and be more efficient and use the dollars they do have more effectively.

By flexibility Straus is referring to the state's relaxing of some mandates. Districts can now cut teachers' salaries instead of just laying them off when money is tight.

Bridges says her group is going to survey educators again in spring.

Bridges: The important thing is to document what's going on now so that we can make the case there is an impact when you cut money to public education.

The teachers' survey comes as districts across Texas line up to sue the state for improperly funding public education.

Email Shelley Kofler

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.