Cutting into the bone

Holly Heinrich

The legacies of our high school educations can follow us to college, determining how easily we transition and how well we perform. In Texas, as in much of the United States, the quality of a public school education differs between cities, towns and zip codes, but the budget recently passed by the Texas House of Representatives, which would cut $8 billion in public education funding, will hurt all Texas school districts. It will harm the next generation of students who dream of coming to college, and in a state where only 27 percent of adults hold a college degree, higher education is already an elusive dream for many Texans.

Freshman linguistics student Sarah Sanders, who attended a Title 1 high school in Beaumont Independent School District, knows firsthand how a lack of funding can leave students unprepared for college. Sanders said the good teachers at her school were not recognized and the under-performing teachers were never asked to “step up their game.”
In districts such as Eanes ISD, where the community offers extra financial help through extensive fundraising, the situation can be better.

“Westlake taught me how to study, take notes and reach out for help if I didn’t understand the material,” said Michelle Suh, a Harvard freshman who attended Westlake High School in Austin. “Our teachers believed we could do anything, and then they taught us how to make that a reality.”

But even high-performing school districts, like districts across the state, are faced with the reality that with the reduction in state aid, eliminating staff and teacher positions is an almost certainty in the coming year.

Freshman history student Moses Lira is concerned that, because of budget cuts, the programs which helped him get to college will not exist after this year.

“In the last decade, my school has seen an increase in students attending college,” said Lira, a graduate of McCollum High School on San Antonio’s economically disadvantaged South Side. “This has been due to an increase in government funding [for college and career preparatory programs]. If the funding had not been there, I would not have known I could attend UT-Austin with the little money my mother made.”

People across the state — students, parents, teachers and recent graduates — are experiencing life changes as the result of expected cuts to public education. There is less and less room in the system they pinned their futures to, and they are being pushed out.

Candidates running for office often say that when they get to Austin, they’ll trim the fat from state spending. But the fat in Texas public education was trimmed years ago. This year’s Legislature is cutting into the bone.