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Citizen Pressure To Avoid Education Cuts Growing

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Public school teachers facing layoffs are taking their message to state lawmakers in Austin today. Their noon rally follows a Saturday march for education funding that drew an estimated 11,000 to the capitol. KERA's Shelley Kofler reports a growing number of Texans are pressuring officials -especially the Governor- to find money for schools.

After traveling for hours from across the state thousands of parents, teachers and students marched to the state capitol warning lawmakers to abandon plans for deep education cuts.

Some 150 Arlington parents and supporters poured out of three charter buses rented for the trip.

Parent: We are going to monitor how they vote on education. Our message to them is we will see you at the ballot box. Parent: I want to send a message to our legislators: we're here for change. I'm looking forward to change in a system I think is broken.

State budget experts say Texas schools face a $9 billion shortfall over the next two years to maintain current programs. Nearly every district is planning cuts in staffing and in programs like pre-kindergarten. Districts are preparing to save money by putting more students in classrooms.

Governor Rick Perry has called for tackling the state's massive budget deficit with cuts. Last week he infuriated many parents like Leanne Rand of Arlington by saying local districts- not the state- are responsible for teacher layoffs.

Leanne: In Arlington 89 percent of our budget goes to salaries of teachers and administrators. So when the budget is cut that's where the majority of the money is coming from. He might not be telling us we have to lay off teachers but that is going to be the end result with the money we're given.

The Governor opposes tapping the state's Rainy Day reserve fund but a growing number of lawmakers in Perry's Republican Party seem to disagree with him. Arlington Republican Diane Patrick sits on the House appropriations committee and joined parents from her district at the rally.

Patrick: As a member of the appropriations committee I've been meeting every day for a month and yes, I think we will use part of the Rainy Day fund.

A sea of umbrellas appeared at the rally as Dallas School Superintendent Michael Hinojosa talked about rain.

Hinojosa: "We're going to have a little rain dance at the end."

And Hinojosa talked about one of his favorite philosophers.

Hinojosa: There was a famous American who once said, "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more." That was Popeye. But Popeye makes more sense than some elected officials sometimes.

Governor Perry, clearly a target for this crowd, got some political advice from Dallas seventh grader Dalton Sherman.

Sherman: Governor, I gotta tell ya, from where I am in the classroom it's raining. Not only should you use the Rainy Day fund for our education but also strive to come up with a permanent solution to our budget crisis.

Email Shelley Kofler