With an anticipated state budget shortfall that seems to grow daily, public school districts, community colleges and university systems are bracing for the worst. Experts now estimate the budget shortfall is between $23.8 billion and $24.8 billion and is expected to go even higher if the economic slump continues.
Austin ISD recently announced that they will close as many as nine schools and reduce staff with a record breaking number of layoffs. If numbers continue to increase, as many as 18-20 may need to close to keep the remainder in business. Every other school district in Texas is facing similar decisions. Hutto ISD announced school closures last week with nearly 100 teachers losing their jobs, and Round Rock, Pflugerville, and Georgetown have echoed similar fears.
For students, it means less revenue per student, fewer electives, and enormous class numbers. It is clear how that will impact their quality of learning. To make things worse, Texas and the U.S. for that matter lags behind much of the world and if anything, needs to step up their efforts to remain competitive in a global marketplace. The future looks grim.
For teachers, it means an trip to the unemployment office to sign up for benefits since there are absolutely no teaching positions out there. Every district is slashing their way to solvency with layoffs and hiring freezes. Teaching is not just a job; it is a profession that requires an investment of years in preparation for a life long career. There are really no other choices for unemployed teachers except to abandon their careers and in desperation to survive, take unskilled labor jobs in restaurants or retail.
“It’s going to be solved by a number of very hard decisions that cause a lot of pain in a lot of different areas,” former budget advisor to governors George Bush and Ann Richardson, Dale Craymer, is quoted as saying. Predicting layoffs in the thousands if not tens of thousands he described the likely outcome as “pretty gruesome.”
The cuts to education will have a devastating impact. Texas has one of the highest rates of student growth in the nation but one of the lowest per pupil expenditures. Classrooms that are already overcrowded will be stretched to unmanageable proportions. This is in a state that already ranks dead last in the percentage of adults who have a high-school diploma.
How will this affect private schools?
Parents know that overcrowded classrooms cannot meet their child’s needs, so after the recent announcements from area school districts and the revelation that Gov. Perry may have concealed how bad the state deficit actually is just to make it through the election, there may be an exodus to private schools.
Parochial and private schools in Austin have reported an increase in applications recently and are beginning to wonder how many of the public school refugees they can realistically accept.
Many of these schools cater to a special population, so not all public school students would transition well. And let’s not forget that with the problems in holding onto jobs these days, mom and dad may not have the money to pay for junior’s private school expenses. Times are hard and they are going to get a lot harder.
Maybe families could hire a desperate laid off teacher to home school their children. It might be a “win win” situation in an economy that does not provide its citizens a way to win. If all else fails, we can all go to work for the Texas prison system- one of the only industries in the state that is stable and growing.