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Growing Up Texas: Teachers forced to grapple with budget cuts
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While state and national standards continue to rise for schools, funding is on the decline.
Last year, state lawmakers cut $4 billion from Texas public schools. From teachers’ perspectives, the cuts hurt them both financially and professionally.
“You can’t cut several billion dollars from the education budget and expect education to be proficient. Those things don’t add up. My mother used to say ‘You get what you pay for,’” UT Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning Julian Vasquez Heilig said.
Last year’s legislative cuts add up to more than $500 less per student. Less money means fewer supplies and usually more students.
As much as teachers are feeling strangled, the best ones don’t want their students to know the difference.
Grace Miller has been a middle school teacher for decades. She’s saved some of her books and supplies over the years, but these days almost anything extra she needs, comes out of her own pocket.
“You have to be resourceful. I have all of my Shakespeare costumes that I’ve found from Goodwill. You find things here and there,” Middle school teacher Grace Miller said. “Things have been so tough that teachers have to buy their own paper for the Xerox machine.”
From buying printing paper to picking up where the library leaves off, teachers are left to carry the cost.
“Kids get excited when they get into a series and they want to bring the next one and the library doesn’t have money to buy it yet, so I usually will buy it,” Miller said. “Students often don’t realize because teachers will never let it fall on the students. They will always use their own paychecks and go buy what they need."
A teacher’s passion pushes them to make up the difference. When there’s a salary freeze, but insurance costs continue to rise, it means a smaller paycheck than the year before. When there’s no budget for classroom supplies, the small stack in the corner probably comes from the teacher.
“Teachers will always do what’s asked of them, but they can’t control the results if too much is asked of them. It’s extremely frustrating. You just want to cry,” Special Education Middle School Teacher Jan Moody said.
When lawmakers say schools need to do better with less, it leaves even the best math teachers wondering how to solve that equation.
“I don’t know how to raise the money the schools need, but we’re expected to do so much more than when we first started this, yet no one wants to give us more resources to do it,” Moody said.
No matter how much or little money classrooms will have this year, the students are returning, and as they prepare to enter the classroom, they may give that small stack of extra notebooks and pencils a second look and thank their teachers for footing the bill.
More than half of Texas’ school districts have filed a lawsuit against the state saying they don’t have enough money to carry out all the requirements to have a high quality education program. Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville and other surrounding school districts have joined the suit.
The court is expected to rule early next year.