Impending massive budget reductions in flat-broke Texas are about to slam education’s door on its Latino youth, who at 2.34 million now comprise about half of its public school students. Experts and community advocates across the state agree on the danger it portents to the state’s economic future as well.
Once among the nation’s wealthiest, the Lone Star State has become the Loan Starved State. It is grappling with a budget shortfall somewhere between $15 billion and $27 billion.
The proposed solution by Gov. Rick Perry, with traction offered by conservatives within the GOP-controlled legislature, targets the schools. It includes a massive layoff of 100,000 teachers and slashes $9.8 billion from public education in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
Major cuts, which vary in the state Senate and House, include increasing class size and eliminating Texas’s pre-kindergarten grant program. They trim funding for teen parenting education, school dropout prevention, certificates to teach bilingual education, community college budgets and a grant program which provides college tuition and fee support for economically disadvantaged students.
“They mortgage the future of Texas,” says Rice University sociology professor Steve Murdock, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Referring to the college grant fund, he echoes statements made by Roberto Alonzo, president of the state legislature’s Mexican American caucus. Their fear: the program’s elimination would result in a lost generation of college-eligible students.
The House version would cut higher education alone by $1.7 billion and axe support for 80,000 grant awards, according to Texas Higher Education coordinating commissioner Raymund Paredes.
Murdock emphasized to Hispanic Link News Service that the cuts would further stretch the education gap that divides white and Hispanic youth, adding to future state revenue losses. In “The New Texas Challenge,” a book he published in 2003, Murdock points out that by 2040 annual Income in the state would increase to $300 billion if this gap is closed.
Murdock, who has characterized Texas as “the United States of tomorrow,” projects the percentage of non-Hispanic white students, now one-third of the state’s students, will shrink to one-fifth.
“It’s very clear that the future of Texas is tied particularly to its Hispanic population,” he declares.
Conservative legislators are deadlocked in attempting to avoid tapping a $9.4 billion rainy day fund and hesitant to raise taxes in high-income districts to secure needed revenue.
“We’re in a crisis and it looks like it’s going to get worse,” says Angela Valenzuela, professor at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the University of Texas Center for Education Policy. She fears that the cuts are more than likely to pass.
Charter schools, with 53 percent Hispanic enrollment, also face major reductions. Josie Duckett, Texas Charter Schools Association vice president, says that 32 percent are dropout recovery schools and 11 percent are college prep. The majority offer dual language courses.
English language learners and low-income students do better in charter schools than in traditional public ones, according to a study released last summer at the CREDO Institute at Stanford University.
Texas ranks 43rd among the 50 states in graduation rates, with only 61 percent of its students completing high school. Black and Hispanic students are twice as likely to quit school early than are whites.
Academic achievement gaps are prevalent in students of limited English proficiency, according to the Intercultural Development Research Association, a San Antonio-based non-profit organization that analyzes public school statistics and educational policies.
The Texas Education Agency reports that English language learners make up 17 percent or 815,998 of Texas k-12 students.
Rice University’s Linda McNeil believes there are options to prevent the cuts, including reforming the franchise tax system, a tax imposed by states on corporations, and eliminating the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test system, which she says disproportionately affects Latinos.
“When we do offer a really rich rigorous education, Latino kids just shine, so we know it’s not the kids,” says McNeil, director of Rice’s Center for Education. “We know our system has been unequal.”
Editor’s note: This column was previously published on Hispanic Link News Service.