Protest advocates tapping Rainy Day Fund to soften education cuts

Brandon Luedtke

The melody of “The Eyes of Texas” filled the Capitol’s halls Monday as protesters sang their discontent over potential cuts to public school funding with a modified version of UT’s alma mater.

A rally Monday at the Capitol attempted to fight legislation that would cut public school funding by $4 billion. Monday’s rally was the latest of several rallies over the past few months in reaction to the proposed cuts. Linda Bridges, the president of the Texas Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, held a press conference prior to the rally. Bridges sat beside 24,400 petitioned signatures in favor of using the state’s estimated $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund to minimize education cuts and keep classes with a 22:1 student to teacher ratio.

Bridges challenged the constitutionality of the budget cuts and emphasized the choices legislators still have available to them during this special session.

“Don’t balance the budget on the backs of students and teachers,” Bridges said.

She argued the proposed permanent cuts should only be temporary because the recession is temporary.

The protests have continued although the budget will soon reach Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for his signature.

“The kids are worth it,” Bridges said.

The protest continued into the rotunda. Louis Malfaro, secretary-treasurer of the federation, organized and addressed the crowd, claiming the cuts were “unacceptable of Texas and we can do better for our kids.”

Malfaro introduced speakers, including Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis led the May 29 filibuster to kill the School Finance Bill that contained the public school cuts. Her filibuster forced the Legislature to enter a special session.

“Regardless of the final vote that comes of this you have made your voice heard — and when November 2012 comes, legislators are going to have to answer to the voters,” Davis said.

Before going into the session to prepare for the vote on the bill, Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, also affirmed his commitment to saying no to cuts he believed would harm Texans.

A tele-town hall meeting followed in the Mexican American Legislative Caucus reception room, where Davis voiced support for eliminating tax exemptions for gas companies as a way to fund public schooling. This was proposed in addition to using part of the Rainy Day Fund, which Perry has recently claimed should be set aside in the event of a natural disaster. Correcting the issue of inequity of spending per pupil across different school districts was also cited as a way to fix funding shortfalls.

Outside, Joseph Ridgemoor, a retired educator from Fort Bend, called for the Legislature to authorize use of the Rainy Day Fund, holding up a sign that declared rainy weather.

“I know of many good, hardworking people who may lose their jobs because their legislators aren’t doing a good job, and I don’t think that’s right,” Ridgemoor said.