Texans protest school cuts

DALLAS — Dallas school employees staged a rally here May 23 to protest attacks on public education and tax giveaways to the rich.

School board member Ron Price and officers of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate addressed the press, school workers and public education advocates in front of the Townview Magnet School, just across the Trinity River from downtown Dallas.

The speakers said public statements from the Republican-dominated Legislature misled Texans about a $3,000 pay raise. In fact, hardly any school employees will see an increase under House Bill 2, the education finance bill under discussion in Austin, the state’s capital.

Cuts in their retirement program were an immediate problem for the school employees. Legislators were attempting to take another $1 billion out of the teachers’ retirement system. They proposed to change the “rule of 80,” which allows school employees to qualify for retirement when their years of service and their age together equal 80. Legislators want a “rule of 90” and other restrictions on retirement age. Texas teachers cannot get Social Security due to earlier legislation, and their retirement fund investments were decimated in the Enron debacle.

Some of the bills and amendments before the Legislature would privatize 5 percent of Texas schools each year. Others would provide more funding for “charter” schools, which are private schools operating with state money but without the strict public school regulations.

At the same time as the Dallas rally, the Legislature was considering an amendment tagged on to an unrelated bill that would have provided state money for a private school voucher program. The amendment was defeated at the same time that the rally footage was playing on the evening news.

The Legislature expects to follow the education cuts with House Bill 3, which would raise taxes on most Texans and provide for big property tax relief for the wealthiest 10 percent, AFT lobbyist Dwight Harris told the rally.

The Texas Constitution says that the state must finance quality education. But the president of the Dallas AFT affiliate, Aimee Bolender, said that the state had shifted the burden more and more to local property taxes. While the state formerly paid 33 percent of Texas education expenses, it now pays 18 percent.

“That’s putting your money where your mouth isn’t!” she said.

She contrasted the cuts to the schools with a separate bill, already passed, which gave the state representatives and senators a whopping increase in their own retirement plan. If they serve for three sessions over six years, they would qualify for a $6,000 per month pension, while teachers who served 26 years would receive only $2,000.

“The Legislature,” the union president said, “is being led by people who are out to destroy public education.”